Manufacturing processes and operations are undergoing a digital transformation, with next-gen industrial IoT (IIoT) applications being deployed on the factory floors, including, but not limited to, predictive maintenance programs, digital twins, and Autonomous Guided Vehicles (AGVs). However, the connectivity technologies that most factories use are unable to provide the high bandwidth, low latency, reliability, and security that Industry 4.0 deployments require and demand. WiFi, which is perhaps the most commonly used, has security, reliability, and interference issues, while cabling does not offer the required flexibility for dynamic factories. LPWAN technologies on the other hand, like Sigfox and Lora, have low throughput. What else is there that makes high-performance IoT networks capable of supporting large numbers of remote and mission-critical applications a reality? Let’s take a look at the role of 5G, private LTE, and ENOs for Industry 4.0.
The Benefits of 5G
The following specifications of 5G make this new wireless technology standard ideal for Industry 4.0:
- Ultra-high bandwidth capacity that allows for faster throughput
- High data speeds (up to 10 gigabits per second)
- Low-latency communications (1-10 milliseconds)
- Five-nines availability (99.999% uptime)
- Low-power consumption (up to 10 years’ battery life for low-power IoT devices)
- 5G is enabling faster, more stable connectivity, and low-latency communications that make real-time data transfer possible
5G networks can be sliced, offering flexible performance and giving enterprises the ability to secure their IoT network. The network can be partitioned at any point, assigning applications to different packet gateways with varying frequencies. This guarantees interference-free connectivity throughout the plant, while devices that have been affected by malware can also be quarantined into separate slices, limiting security threats and preventing other devices on the network from being affected. However, it will take some time before 5G cellular networks are fully rolled out and the manufacturing can take advantage of the benefits.
Private LTE: A Stepping Stone to 5G
Until that day, Private LTE is already offering many of the aforementioned benefits, while also providing an easy transition path to 5G further down the road. Private cellular networks (PCNs) that are both owned and operated by the enterprise are fast becoming a mission-critical resource. PCNs offer the additional resilience and security that IIoT applications require, as well as give manufacturing companies the means to tailor their connectivity to meet specific application requirements and optimize demand for network resources.
Thanks to innovation in pLTE, MNOs no longer have sole control over the network. This instead gives enterprises ownership of their network connectivity. Enterprise-owned PCNs are the answer to accommodating today’s mission-critical, data-centric IoT applications before 5G becomes widely available. However, a lack of in-house telco experience can lead to manufacturing companies being unaware of the benefits of or unable to deploy their own private LTE network, and that’s where a new player in the connectivity space comes in: the Enterprise Network Operator (ENO).
Deploying a pLTE Network
ENOs work under a Network-as-a-Service model, providing managed connectivity services to help enterprises take control of their IoT network. Individual business needs can be catered to through ENOs with unique connectivity solutions like supplementing an existing network with a private LTE core or providing a complete private cellular network on an unlicensed spectrum. As an enabler for the infrastructure and related services that enterprises need to own and control their IoT networks, an ENO provides managed connectivity services through a private LTE network that allow manufacturing enterprises to focus on their core business and maximize the potential of their deployments.
ENO for IIoT
With a private cellular networking solution, control is in the hands of the enterprise, since it can “slice” the network and deploy additional packet gateways on the fly with varying bandwidths, QoS requirements, and security policies in order to optimize the network for specific IIoT applications. The result is a future-proof solution that enables mission-critical assets to be connected securely, reliably, and cost-effectively in an industrial setting, while paving the way for 5G in the future.
Furthermore, eSIM and eUICC technology provide additional ownership to the enterprise by controlling the device from the SIM card without needing to remove IIoT devices from the field. Over the Air (OTA) provisioning removes dependence on any one operator by allowing network service providers to be swapped in and out remotely, thus giving manufacturing enterprises the flexibility to respond immediately to changes in network coverage and pricing. Access to an agnostic platform-as-a-service (PaaS) also gives manufacturing enterprises granular control and visibility of their IoT connectivity in real time, and the modular design of this centralized management platform enables enterprises to easily integrate new services, such as analytics, billing, and security solutions, as they scale their operations.
Paving the Way
By using private LTE, ENOs can accommodate today’s mission-critical, data-centric IoT applications, paving the way for Industry 4.0. Manufacturing processes are undergoing a digital transformation and WiFi is no longer the best option for industrial connectivity. An Enterprise Network Operator (ENO) provides safe and reliable connectivity-as-a-service, allowing industrial enterprises to digitize their business and make 5G deployment possible.