One of the most buzzed about words in the manufacturing industry recently is 5G. Many business owners are wondering if 5G will live up to its hype and how it will affect the manufacturing landscape as we know it.
The Evolution of the Manufacturing Industry
Warehouses and manufacturing facilities have changed dramatically since the days of the Industrial Revolution. In the 1990s and early 2000s, warehouses became much more than remote locations for packaging, holding and shipping out product.
Today, manufacturing facilities, warehouses and plants rely on digital technology, as well as network connectivity, to conduct tasks around the clock including real-time inventory monitoring, safety management and employee communication. As technology continues to advance, manufacturing businesses are also increasingly leveraging cloud and mobile computing to streamline operations across the industry. As a result, strong and reliable connectivity is essential to powering operations.
5G’s Role in the Industry
So how will 5G impact the manufacturing industry once it rolls out? For starters, 5G promises a faster network, with data speeds greater than 1 Gbps. It also promises a more responsive network with low 1ms latency in the cellular environment, which will further enable the Internet of Things thanks to 5G’s ability to connect multiple smart devices. The 5G specification will allow a network density of up to 1M devices /km2. On the business side, not only will 5G catapult manufacturing operations by enabling businesses to do more, faster, it will also make them more secure and more responsive to customer needs. Since factories, warehouses and other facilities have increasingly been equipped with smart technologies that demand a high-speed network, 5G will only benefit manufacturers.
The Timeline for 5G Implementation
It’s difficult to predict exactly when 5G will be widely available, but the telecommunications industry has been hard at work laying the foundation for 5G. In fact, Verizon and AT&T have already been undergoing trials to prepare for a 5G rollout in the next couple of years. Verizon is also currently in the process of laying 12 million miles of fiber to support the new 5G denser small cell network. But don’t worry, 4G LTE won’t be going away anytime soon. The new 5G networks will be built in parallel to today’s 4G LTE network, which will act as a fallback network when a user is not covered by the new 5G service. This is an essential layer as 5G networks begin to densify in the coming years. As a result, manufacturers can rest easy and will not need to deal with dropped service or missed communication when the 5G network rolls out.
5G’s Impact on Cellular Connectivity
Many of today’s manufacturing facilities experience issues with cellular connectivity as a result of their expansive square footage and construction materials, among other things. Thick concrete walls, brick, steel beams and other materials commonly found in warehouses can prevent cellular signals from reaching the interior spaces of these buildings. In addition to poor cellular signal causing operational and communication issues, it can also expose manufacturers to cybercriminal infiltration of all types of sensitive data.
When 5G is implemented, these complications will only increase. As frequencies increase, their signal strength and broadcast range will deteriorate more rapidly compared to 4G LTE frequencies in use today. As a result, the surrounding landscape and even weather such as snow or rain will severely weaken new 5G signals indoors. Even though the signal may be strong outside, construction material and building type can also attenuate 5G signals greater than today’s 4G LTE frequencies. In order to provide higher 5G network performance speeds and lower latency, 5G frequencies will require a denser network with more small cells and base stations.
Solving Connectivity Issues
Fortunately, an easy fix—cellular signal boosters—currently exists to solve poor cellular connectivity and will also, when available, help improve 5G connection issues. So long as there are barriers to cellular signal, booster technology will be able to help amplify the existing signal to improve overall connectivity.
Cellular signal boosters take strong cell signal outdoors and bring it into any manufacturing facility, resulting in an amplification of the signal by as much as 32 times. Stronger connectivity increases overall productivity, safety and communication with employees and field agents in real-time. In addition, by backing a network up with a robust cellular connection, manufacturers can ensure that they have the necessary redundancy to protect their businesses against potential data breaches.
There’s no doubt about it—5G is coming, and it will change the manufacturing industry as we know it for the better. In order to mitigate any potential cellular connectivity or security issues, manufacturers should have a plan in place in advance. By taking the time to prepare for 5G, manufacturers will be able to enjoy a smooth transition into 5G so they can reap its benefits, ensuring that their businesses continue to run as efficiently and securely as possible.
Jeffrey Gudewicz is the Chief Product Officer for Wilson Electronics.