5G is much more than just the new generation of wireless connectivity. Aside from transforming our experiences in today’s increasingly connected world, it will be crucial for the evolution of industries – accelerated this year due to COVID-19 – which is placing new and more rigorous demands on latency and reliability of network, as well as cloud infrastructure. These will be key for economies, especially those across the Asia-Pacific, to reach new heights of optimization and efficiency.
As today’s industries must now be faster, more agile, more powerful, and more transformative than ever before, connectivity must offer chrematistics unmet by prior technologies. With the advent of the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and the edge cloud – as well as the growing interdependence between operational technologies and ICT – we can now change the scope and scale of productivity to unleash a new wave of innovation across societies, businesses, and countries.
Evolving the Cloud with 5G and Edge Computing
Today’s cloud architectures limit any real-time operations to the local devices themselves, as they prioritized centralizing cloud resources to transfer data across large distances (and sometimes across national boundaries). They cannot support the rigorous performance requirements of advanced IIoT applications; the cloud must move closer to the ‘end-users’ which are no longer humans, but arrays of sensors and machines working together.
With 5G now rolling out across the world, we can flexibly connect thousands of IIoT devices at a site with industrial-strength and wireless connectivity by using a new distributed edge cloud. It balances the scale and sharing benefits of the cloud by driving the performance, regulations and security required for localization.
For edge cloud resources to host network functions providing LTE/5G connectivity for IIoT applications, today’s telecommunication infrastructure must adopt cloud architecture. The 5G network core – and indeed some of its radio components – can be deployed as cloud software, thereby exploring the edge cloud to achieve the end-to-end performance necessary to achieve the most stringent use cases. To achieve peak performance and ultra-high reliability, there must be close integration and optimization between the network, cloud infrastructure, applications, and end devices.
Some industries will prefer the edge cloud to be on-premises – not only for geographically challenging locations (i.e. mines and offshore oil fields) but also for more common locations when the industry can support cloud resources independently and with strict control and security. For many others, however, a more optimal solution is a common co-location facility close to the industrial campus, including network provider locations or carrier-neutral data center providers.
This emerging ecosystem enables new and hybrid business models that span network and cloud services, as well as with IIoT application providers. Depending on the use cases, the flexibility enabled by 5G-powered IIoT can play out differently for various industries across the Asia-Pacific.
How 5G Enables New IIoT Applications for Industries
By establishing a local LTE/5G network for connectivity and edge cloud support, a mine operator can improve their exploration activities, i.e. the collecting of geographic data, geophysical imaging on the near-surface and even drone-powered geophysical aeromagnetic surveys. For quicker results and to reduce dependence on costly satellite or microwave links to faraway data centers, the bulk of processing and analyses can be done locally. These are especially useful for mineral rich but geographically challenging nations such as Indonesia.
The same network – if it enables successful exploration – can then be scaled to fulfill the more stringent automation and monitoring demands of the entire mining operation. By adopting this approach, we were able to introduce the industry’s first Autonomous Haulage system (AHS), running on a locally run private wireless network, to set new standards of mining operation efficiency and worker safety.
The factory of the future is one which can proliferate industrial-strength wireless connectivity to orchestrate the movement of robots, automated guided vehicles (AGVs) and workers equipped with smart tools to raise improved workflow efficiency and safety – as we are demonstrating for automotive manufacturing in Japan.
It is possible to deliver the extremely high reliability and low latency needed for machined automation applications and provide workers with highly-responsive interactive services (i.e. augmented reality (AR) overlays to repair and maintain equipment) – but only if edge computing is integrated with a private wireless network.
For urban areas, edge-powered IIoT analytics can help to greatly reduce the amount of locally stored data and then transfer it over a network. This is as it can gather all sensor data, especially when monitoring roads and intersections with intelligent highway systems, and then transfer the most pertinent data linked to irregularities that may highlight accidents or dangerous situations.
Such applications also streamlines jobs for city employees, especially those working in high population and high-density cities like Bangkok, and Manila, since they monitor only the most crucial data and footage. Concurrently, service providers collating data from on-board vehicle sensors can then integrate the information gathered into streams that improve local situational awareness and coordination.
This method of gathering data – especially when using video analytics – can be combined with machine learning to power more applications across a wider range of environments. To ensure they are cost-effective in application for real-time use cases, 5G connectivity must be combined with edge computing.
The Dawn of a New Industrial Era
As we enter the next phase of technology and the economy, there will be many use cases for edge computing – especially with the extension of more reliable low latency networks to industrial applications. Coupling that with the rising proliferation of advanced technologies like artificial intelligence and machine learning, edge computing can catalyze industries to harness IIoT technologies to raise operational efficiency and reduce costs, and by extension, boost revenues.
By combining edge computing with 5G, more can be done to deliver the low latency, high reliability, low power consumption, high bandwidth, multi-level security, and ubiquitous wireless connectivity required to enable extraordinary experiences across industries and markets.
By Terence McCabe, Chief Technology Officer, Asia Pacific & Japan at Nokia