In some industries, it makes sense to build an independent 5G campus network to complement the 5G networks currently being set up by mobile communications operators. What advantages does this kind of network offer, and for whom is it suitable?
The fifth generation of mobile communications is regarded as a paradigm shift and a key technology for the networked society. But is this really the case? In this article we present the most important advantages of the new mobile communications technology from a business perspective. We also explain what campus networks are, and highlight which industries and businesses they are suitable for.
More than just a new generation of mobile communications
A lot has changed since the 1980s when the first mobile phones came onto the market. Over time, technical advances such as GPRS and Edge enabled mobile internet access. UMTS, HSDPA and, most recently, LTE boosted the available speeds so that it was gradually possible to use increasingly more demanding applications. Now 5G is at the starting line. In some places, it has already been implemented.
5G doesn’t only promise higher bandwidths, but lower latency, higher reliability and improved security too. The largest mobile communications operators have already started building their 5G networks. But there are gaps. If they wish, companies and authorities can close these gaps using 5G campus networks and, in addition, extend them using Wi-Fi 6.
In its Guidelines for 5G Campus Networks – Orientation for Small and Medium-Sized Businesses, the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) explains that a campus network is a “geographically limited, local mobile radio network adapted to special requirements, for example industrial communication”. It must “fulfil the highest standards of service quality regarding latency, reliability and availability of communication networks”. These properties make 5G campus networks attractive for demanding industrial applications. 5G will therefore play an important role in implementing the factory of the future.
Advantages of the new technology
Nowadays it’s not just people who communicate with each other and with machines. Increasingly, the machines themselves are exchanging data directly. Nobody knows exactly how many of these there are any more. Calculations for the number of networked devices in the previous year vary considerably. The figure lies between 50 and 500 billion. More than every second company in Germany has already implemented IoT (Internet of Things) projects.
High data rates
Data rates of up to 300 MBit/s are possible with LTE. 5G boosts this considerably. So, for example, at the IFA 2018 Deutsche Telekom built a 5G test network able to reach speeds of up to 3 GBit/s. Under ideal conditions even 10 GBit/s are possible. A little calculation shows just how fast 5G is: downloading a DVD via a 50 MBit/s DSL connection takes around 13 minutes. With 5G, it takes just four seconds.
Many commercial applications rely on minimum latency. Video conferences are an excellent example of this: nothing makes communication harder than delays. 5G connections offer latencies of just a few milliseconds. Under laboratory conditions, this can even be reduced to a single millisecond. The latencies in current LTE networks are around 50 milliseconds.
Today, anyone travelling by car and using mobile internet will experience repeated service interruptions. 5G will ensure that transferring communication from one network cell to the next will be faster and more reliable.
Increased flexibility, energy efficiency and security
5G offers other advantages too. It enables network functions to be virtualised and adapted flexibly to the required architecture. According to a study by Zürich University and Empa, the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Materials Science and Technology, 5G networks use around 85 per cent less energy for every unit of data transported. Further savings can be achieved thanks to intelligent networks. 5G also scores well from an IT security perspective. Cryptographic solutions can be used to keep components separate. In addition, information about the identity of a participant will no longer be transmitted without encryption. Authentication Confirmation (AC) provides additional protection for roaming. This can be used, for example, to check the identity of the mobile communications operator.
Industries and companies suitable for 5G campus networks
Many companies are currently undergoing a digital transformation. Supply chains are being rethought and production replanned to be able to respond more quickly to demands from consumers. New concepts such as value flow kinematics are being tested. However, increasing a company’s efficiency is only possible with a faster and more reliable network.
Up until now, autonomous systems have been relatively expensive, but only need limited mobile connection. Ultimately, it may be less expensive to rely on developments such as edge networking and cloud computing. This enables, for example, functions such as route determination to be outsourced and entire fleets of AGVs (Automated Guided Vehicles) to be operated far less expensively and more efficiently at the same time. Local 5G campus networks are ideally suited to this.
In its guidelines, the BMWi has identified several industries suitable for 5G campus networks. One of these is the logistics industry. The logistics industry must transport increasing quantities of goods quickly and safely. Numerous – sometimes highly-complex – processes interact with each other. These could benefit enormously from digitalisation and automation. Another potential application is the Smart City: with networked vehicles, traffic lights and doors, all the way through to entire supermarkets. The BMWi sees enormous potential here for operating private campus networks in shopping centres, schools and office complexes – right through to entire city centres, which would become independent from the public infrastructure. Other applications could be in energy supply, medicine and the mining sector.
The BMWi is also considering mobile campus networks which could be used in areas with no or only sporadic network coverage. These are suitable for promoting digitalisation in agriculture, on building sites, and for running events, for example. 5G campus networks also play an important role in “mobile factories”. These are ready-to-use modules which are delivered in containers, all set up and ready to go. These are quick to install and run at the desired location. However, without a powerful connection these “factories in a box” are almost unusable.