How 5G will accelerate Industry 4.0

An interview with Sebastian Tan, Head of the 5G Centre Of Excellence (COE) Unit, StarHub

Blog written on 12 November 2019

Organisations are going through a period of profound transformation, driven by pervasive digitalisation and connectivity. However, the already intense pace is set to be ratcheted up another notch with the impending arrival of hyper fast 5G, which is expected to play an instrumental role in driving Industry 4.0.

Estimated by KPMG to reach US$4 trillion (pdf) by 2020, Industry 4.0 consists of activities ranging from smart manufacturing, connected supply chain to autonomous equipment. But what exactly does 5G offer, and how can an improved mobile technology have such a profound impact on the face of business?

The potential of 5G

The mobile industry has advanced significantly since the early days of voice-only communication, moving from 2G with its alternate support for either voice or data, to 3G with its simultaneous voice and data transmission. 4G delivered significant improvements to data speeds, opening the floodgates to data-centric applications such as streaming and messaging apps. But unlocking the full promise of industry 4.0 requires advanced connectivity with significantly greater reliability, performance, and density, which is where 5G comes into the picture.

Unlike earlier iterations of mobile technology, 5G was envisioned to seamlessly support both mobile communications and the delivery of ICT services though a single mobile network. Businesses users will no longer have to consciously switch between mobile networks or local area networks, as 5G can support enterprise applications with a new mobile ecosystem that enables stellar connectivity to public spaces and office buildings alike.

This is offered through an advanced mobile network with low-latency data transmission of up to 10 times faster than 4G, and incredibly dense deployments of up to a million devices per square kilometre. Indeed, the advent of 5G is expected to pivot the current usage of mobile services from passive, consumption-only usage scenarios such as watching videos, to real-time applications such as e-sports, augmented reality (AR) or even full-fledged virtual reality (VR) applications.

Accelerating industry transformation

Within smart factories, 5G is expected to simplify Industry 4.0 deployments by fulfilling the communication role that automation requires. This is because the limitations of wired local area network such as its limited segment lengths and inflexible physical footprint make it a poor choice for fluid factory environments, while traditional WLAN (Wireless Local Area Network) technologies are highly susceptible to interference and blind spots that result in erratic and unreliable coverage.

A next-gen wireless mobile networks in the form of 5G with its heightened reliable and wireless reach can hence empower smart deployments. The capabilities of 5G are also vital for building various core capabilities to power smart cities. For instance, ultra-low latency communication between traffic-controlling roadside units and autonomous vehicles is critical for safety for a driverless future. The port and maritime vessels at sea can similarly benefit, with a $40 million fund already earmarked in Singapore for 5G applications including smart port management.

Elsewhere, a range of collaboration ranging from maintenance and repair of high-value assets, or even complex, cross-border medical procedures can now be realised with 5G. High-definition video calls between workers in the field and specialists or supervisors residing at a back-office location makes real-time consultation possible, while the precision and success of surgical operations can be enhanced by leveraging the leading overseas medical experts.

Adopting a new paradigm

The many benefits make it amply evident that 5G is no mere upgrade in data transmission speeds but represents a unique opportunity for stakeholders to facilitate and accelerate the next wave of industry transformation. Expect 5G to bring about a better user experience for mobile users, too, as well as enabling a host of new capabilities and services that will benefit enterprises.

Instead of taking weeks to deploy their own WLAN deployments, organisations or schools can tap into the power of 5G with network slicing for immediate access to a private mobile network on campuses or in corporate offices. Elsewhere, the 5G network can also serve as a gateway to edge facilities or public cloud services or serve as a bridge to a plethora of rich, cloud-powered services.

At StarHub, we want to develop a vibrant 5G ecosystem to benefit both mobile users and businesses. To achieve this, we are working hard to establish business partnerships with industry players to co-develop new use cases that will bring efficiency and speed-to-market to a whole new level. We want to enable our customers to enjoy a compelling 5G experience that only an innovative telco market leader can offer.

On the technical side, we have already started preparing for 5G with two successful trial deployments both onsite and using our cell-on-wheels (COW) mobile base-station. Based on our tests, 5G enabled a fast download speed of close to 1Gbps and an upload speed of 60Mbps. Latency clocked in at around 18ms, which is almost three times better than what we can get with 4G. We are also participating in nationwide trials with various industry partners to co-develop use cases and harness the enhanced capabilities of 5G for Industrial 4.0 transformation.

We are going full speed ahead with our mission to enable StarHub as the 5G service provider, to enable and converge IT and mobility services as one. Will you join us on this journey?

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