Data speeds 20 times faster than 4G. An additional $2.7 trillion dollars in US sales. $484 billion dollars contributed to the US GDP by 2030.
These promising stats are being rolled out as we speak and predicted to be delivered in this decade, thanks to the 5th wave of communications and data technology. It’s a quantum leap in the speed and quality consumers and businesses are accustomed to (and restricted by) across all industries and geographies implementing it. While not completely the norm just yet, a fully 5G-enabled future is fast-approaching, and the too often overlooked opportunity to transform key aspects of manufacturing is impressive.
Manufacturers have a significant opportunity to adopt (and perhaps lead) the 5G revolution as an industry, taking the opportunities and benefits by the reins to deliver faster, proactive, or even preemptive customer service through faster and broader data generation and reporting capabilities. But understanding the playing field of 5G and manufacturing’s role within it is a critical foundation for those interested.
With this article, we’ll broadly define 5G as a whole and, for manufacturers, investigate their potential role as a leading candidate for 5G industrial applications, and review potential challenges to 5G adoption along the way.
Defining 5G as a whole
5G is, most simply, the next iteration of mobile internet communication networks, providing exponentially faster data download speeds and more reliable connectivity. Like the exponential improvements demonstrated by the previous four generations preceding it, the latest standards and technological advances powering 5G systems represent more than just faster download speeds and ubiquitous access marketers are touting for consumers.
Rather, 5G should be regarded as a vehicle; an enabler of previously limited or impossible capabilities. Alongside continued improvements in form factors, power management, and connectivity for everything from automation sensors, medical equipment, and heavy machinery to washing machines and light bulbs, almost anything manufacturers produce could become an intelligent, integrated IoT component that thrives on fast, unlimited 5G transmission, driving large economic growth for connected areas.
Of particular interest for manufacturers, 5G’s low latency (five times faster than the present 4G) is a compelling opportunity to truly drive an industry 4.0 business model forward. This would include more reliable data analysis of supply chains and predictive maintenance, key priorities for the connected factory floors of the future. Think beyond faster transmission rates with fewer payload drops—consider a fully automated production line that is responding to, compensating for, learning, and correcting itself to drive efficiency, increase quality control, and reduce downtime across different factory floors. Consider a machine in the field constantly reporting its telemetry for off-site analysis and optimized performance. Consider the value of knowing, analyzing, and resolving a customer’s product failure—before it happens.
Manufacturing as the foremost industry leading a 5G revolution
Because of manufacturing’s position—juggling multiple lines of production and business on different types of machinery with or without internet connectivity—it stands to gain the most from the 5G revolution as the next frontier of ultra-reliable network connectivity for more than just phones.
For starters, the distribution and logistics of goods (and their service providers) could be greatly enhanced. 4G and 5G enabled cars already get real-time traffic updates, crash detection, maps with alternative routes, and report critical data to both driver and manufacturer. More exciting capabilities driven by 5G include our potential driverless future, where infallible and gigabit-rate data transmission allows direct communication between connected cars (or buildings, traffic management devices, or even the stock they are transporting). These improvements could greatly improve how manufacturers schedule and distribute their goods or provide on-site customer services.
Manufacturers who support critical city infrastructures—roads, lighting, sanitation, and similar utilities—can also benefit from 5G connectivity. Sensors on a 5G network can communicate faster than ever to warn service workers of potential risks, predict traffic conditions, or forewarn about outages well in advance. While significant strides have been made in this regard thanks to smaller high-efficiency silicon chips and previous generations of mobile data improvements, merely contemplating a truly“always-everywhere-everything” connected infrastructure creates myriad new possibilities. Not only this, manufacturers need to adequately prepare and improve their data maturity capabilities to deal with the avalanche of data in a way that delivers meaningful results and faster, better decision-making abilities.
The manufacturing industry has already started to leverage 5G and tap into its power, which has recently been critical for many organizations to recover from pandemic-related disruptions. While the true 5G promise will become feasible to manufacturers once it encompasses all geographies and establishes itself as the communication performance standard, what is already available to some manufacturers has allowed them to increase employee productivity, decrease operational costs with more agile processes, and even improve brand reputation with reduced emissions.
Predicted challenges adopting 5G and strategies to address them
While the future looks bright, most manufacturers aren’t sitting back with 5G-connected shades just yet. There are a number of real challenges that are slowing down the implementation and widespread adoption of 5G, and history, unfortunately, shows that manufacturers are often the most cautious business players out there when it comes to embracing technological advances. Simplus’ parent company, Infosys, has identified three main areas that pose a challenge to manufacturers on the fence about how to invest in 5G connectivity.
1. Having the right partner ecosystem: For 5G to benefit industrial organizations, those organizations must have a dependable support network of ecosystem partners providing the connected devices and maintaining the network. Not all manufacturers feel confident in their existing partner network to accomplish this. Protocol standards, performance leader emergences, and ongoing improvements have mitigated this risk, but manufacturers must do a lot of homework and ensure they are aligning their goals, technologies, strategies, and investments with partners who support and protect them.
2. Making the financial case for 5G investment: Setting up an infrastructure and embedded technologies to take advantage of 5G will be, for most, not an insignificant cost. Many decision-makers may wonder if the ROI on 5G is worth such an investment, especially with new, potentially disruptive technologies seeming to be always on the horizon, touted as better, faster, more stable, or long-lasting. The good news is that 5G, in many ways, actually does not represent a “whole new capability” stimulating “whole new ideas”; rather, it’s supercharging existing capabilities and removing constrained thinking to realize what was not feasible before—and future iterations (6G, anyone?) will only further unleash the value of the 5G investments you make today. But conjecture and ideation don’t typically hold up in the CFO or shareholder’s office, so take the time to identify, quantify, and benchmark the anticipated gains (and costs) to sell stakeholders on your 5G transformation.
3. Preparing for technical hurdles when implementing 5G: The complexity of implementing 5G will raise questions about the entire architecture that needs to adopt, upgrade, or be implemented anew to deliver the intended results. SaaS business models have made the adoption of new capabilities and handling of masses of data far easier, but this has an impact on budgeting and operating cost models. Compliance and security are natural considerations when defining whether your organization has a closed or open network. While a closed network will remove more security concerns, it will likely also take away from the superior speed of 5G; but an open network can leave more security gaps to be addressed through alternative means by your team and your investments. Is your team ready to rationalize and tackle these complex technical challenges?
To address these hesitations from within your own manufacturing organization, it’s critical that interested stakeholders present successful use cases already executed at similarly situated manufacturers. How are your competitors approaching 5G? is your organization beginning to lag due to a lack of investment in a similar strategy?
Selling decision-makers on the potential benefits is one thing, but to gain real alignment and champions of a new 5G future for your organization, you must find the ecosystem partners to support your newly connected factory floor with 5G devices, present the case for how 5G will reward the bottom line in the long-run despite a large initial investment, and devise clear roles for your IT team to develop the automated, digitized foundation that will support it all, without layering on further technical debt and complexity for users.
If you want to get your own manufacturing organization 5G ready with a sleeker, stronger digital transformation at its core, reach out to Simplus. We are proven experts in guiding companies through their biggest technological changes and supporting growth with Strategic Advisory, Organizational Change & Training, Managed Services, and more.