Preparing for 5G
The new Bugatti Chiron can travel up to 490.48 km/h. That’s fast — but achieving those record speeds would be impossible off-road. Preparing for 5G is the same, there is critical infrastructure that needs to be in place in order for the top speeds it promises to achieve. Here John Young, APAC director at industrial parts supplier EU Automation, looks at how infrastructure will need to evolve to be ready for 5G.
The average latency across all tested 4G networks is 53.1 milliseconds. However, 5G has the potential to achieve sub-millisecond latency times, which could make previously imagined technologies now a reality.
For everyday consumers, this will mean being able to watch high-quality movies on a smartphone or seamlessly live streaming on the move. In comparison, industrial users are readying to embrace the benefits that 5G will bring to device reliability and plant monitoring equipment.
Two specific technologies will be inherently useful to industry. One is ultra-reliable low latency communication (URLLC) which is a service that is key for latency-sensitive applications such as factory automation, self-driving cars and potentially remote surgery or maintenance.
Latency is caused by packet loss. Data is transmitted in packets of information and these can sometimes become corrupted for a variety of factors such as radio frequency interference or faulty hardware. Applications like URLLC require sub-millisecond latency with error rates that are lower than one packet loss in 100 thousand packets, which 5G can provide.
URLLC could help improve the adoption rate of virtual and augmented reality applications that could be used to carry out remote maintenance tasks with robots. This low latency will allow pinpoint precision even from half a continent away, reducing maintenance time and costs.
There is also massive machine type communication (mMTC) which uses 5G’s ability to host a large number of connected devices in a small area to facilitate high-quality sensing, metering, and monitoring of devices. This could be revolutionary for how businesses implement predictive maintenance, as more data points will be able to gather without the fear of data bottlenecks.
For example, if a conveyor belt motor in a production plant was on the verge of failing, data from an mMTC system could provide an accurate time frame for when it was likely to fail. This allows operations and maintenance managers to order a replacement from their preferred parts provider, such as EU Automation, so that it arrives in time.
However, none of this will be possible unless adequate infrastructure is in place. One of the most important facts about 5G is that it operates at much higher frequencies – anywhere between 1GHz and 300GHz, compared with the most prominent band for 4G in Australia, which works at 700MHz. This means that the signal attenuates faster and many common building materials can block signals.
Prominently the higher frequency means that there will need to be more transmitters and signal towers to ensure stable signals. High-frequency waves, such as 5G, have short wavelengths and the high-pressure portion of the wave compresses the medium, creating heating.
This means that the waveform radiates energy and reduces the amplitude of the wave, causing it to lose energy faster across longer distances. This could mean existing infrastructure needs to be converted into transmitters lampposts, billboards and even traffic lights may have to be drafted in to help the signal propagate.
The way that signals travel also increases signal attenuation, meaning that offices, industrial plants and homes may soon be in the need of a redesign. Plywood, solid wood and steel all block or interfere with 5G signals, so infrastructure could soon require more radio frequency (RF) transparent materials to ensure businesses can properly use 5G.
Offices and older industrial buildings that use brick and thicker materials may even have to install transmitters inside or replace roofing or wall segments with RF transparent materials to ensure full and seamless coverage.
For example, robots are becoming more prominent in warehouses, because they help streamline internal logistics, and URLLC and mMTC will be critical for controlling larger fleets. Control systems for these fleets may be housed remotely and flawless communications will be critical. This means that ensuring that the building and surrounding infrastructure doesn’t interferes with the signals is vitally important.
5G will inevitably require infrastructure changes that may change the world around us, but the benefits that 5G can provide are surely worth it. Just like most of us would want to at least experience travelling at 490 km/h if we owned a Bugatti, who wouldn’t want to be able to download a high-definition movie in less than seven minutes?
By John Young, APAC director at industrial parts supplier EU Automation