From February 25 to 28, 2019, MWC19 Barcelona, the mobile industry’s largest exhibition, was held in Barcelona, Spain. (Starting this year, the event is no longer called the "Mobile World Congress.") Vehicles using self-driving technology had a strong presence at this year's MWC. Visitors felt that next-generation mobility was quickly rising as the killer use case of 5G, noting that this may accelerate the spread of 5G.
Since 5G is of course a mobile communication technology, it uses a large number of technologies to allow moving objects to have seamless communication. In that sense, it may be quite natural that 5G, the leading-edge mobile communication technology, is right for next-generation vehicles.
This article introduces another potential killer use case that we noticed during the course of collecting information at MWC19 Barcelona.
Robots That Don't Travel Fast but Want More Than Being Wired
AT MWC, we felt it was robots that would be best served by the communication capabilities of 5G. Many robots are usually connected via Wi-Fi because they do not travel fast and are placed in offices or factories. Wi-Fi connection however may become unstable or disconnected depending on where it is used. For this reason, LAN cable connection is required if disconnection causes trouble in operations.
For example, a factory production line has a row of a wide variety of industrial robots such as robotic arms. These robots are connected to a controller via LAN cables and their operation or failure status is centrally managed at a remote management center. Since the production line is optimized for the product it is therefore not uncommon that it is rearranged when the product changes. What is tedious here is re-cabling the factory LAN that connects the industrial robots. Such a tedious task can be eliminated if Wi-Fi is used. To avoid losses in the case of the production line stopping due to unexpected disconnection, however, wired LAN connection is usually selected since it will provide stable communication.
This conventional wisdom may be overturned when practical use of 5G begins. 5G should provide low-latency communication that does not disconnect at the same level as wired LAN. It is easy to handle and does not require cable rewiring when changing the production line. Therefore, the use of 5G will attract attention. At MWC19 Barcelona, too, communication inside factories was introduced as a use case of 5G. Korean-based SK Telecom, for example, placed many industrial robots in their booth to attract visitors' attention to 5G in-factory communication.
A factory production line showcased as a 5G use case by SK Telecom
Industrial robots are fixed in one place. Communication settings using a wired network therefore will not cause any inconvenience in daily operation. The use of such a network, however, becomes difficult if robots are mobile like humanoid robots. Many mobile robots work on tasks that require cooperation with administrators or users. If they are connected to a network via cables, handling the cables will be a hassle in daily operation. Wi-Fi is used under these circumstances.
At MWC19 Barcelona, the U.S.-based CloudMinds Technology and the Taiwanese-based MediaTek demonstrated their robots to attract the attention of many visitors. When using a robot with a communication application, disconnection resulting in operational problems appears as an application failure. Such an application is required to have as high performance as possible since seamless connectivity and low latency are especially closely related to the convenience of business applications. Wi-Fi connection can be made quickly at a low cost. However, it cannot guarantee that it will not be disconnected because users fight over a single bandwidth. For this reason, 5G is a technology worth considering as a Wi-Fi replacement.
Demonstration by CloudMinds Technology (U.S.)
Demonstration by MediaTek (Taiwan)—robots mimic the movement of a performer in real time.
Local 5G: An In-House Network Built with a Private 5G Network
As introduced in the first article of this series, the aim of 5G is to be a mobile network that supports society in the 2020's. The specifications of 5G were developed to achieve communication performance appropriate for each assumed use case. As a result, 5G not only provides a high capacity, low latency, and high density network, it has also significantly evolved in the area of its strength, which is support for high-speed movement. It has been designed as a general-purpose, high-performance network that can support any use case.
If practical use of 5G begins as described in this article, companies will consider replacing not only Wi-Fi but also in-house wired LAN. Note, however, companies must closely examine running costs if they plan to replace all in-house networks with a 5G service. Monthly communication costs may jump after replacing free in-house networks with a paid 5G service.
If you wish you could build an in-house network with your own equipment like Wi-Fi, there is good news for you. Soon you will be able to build a 5G network with your own equipment. This type of 5G network is called local 5G.
The key point in deciding the viability of a local 5G network is whether its dedicated bandwidth can be secured. The statement "Soon you will be able to build a 5G network with your own equipment" above was written because dedicated local 5G bandwidths will soon be allocated to allow private sector companies to introduce local 5G to their factories or offices.
There are two bandwidths that are being considered as dedicated local 5G bandwidths to be allocated. One is the 4.6–4.8 GHz range in the 4.5 GHz band and the other is the 28.2–29.1 GHz range in the 28 GHz band. Work is underway to establish the system by the summer of 2020.
The 28.2–28.3 GHz range in the 28 GHz band is noteworthy. Surveys on interference with adjacent bandwidths have already been completed, and this range will be available for use sooner than other ranges. The system for this range may be established as early as the summer of 2019. For this reason, if you are considering creating a next-generation network for large establishments like factories, research facilities, airports, business parks or stadiums, it is recommended that you collect information on local 5G applications and create networks at an early stage.
There are roughly two ways for companies to create a local 5G network. The first way is a company purchasing necessary equipment and creating and managing a local 5G network. The second way involves asking a third party to create and manage a local 5G network. After the summer of 2019, when more specific information on the system is available, communication providers and IT vendors will propose a wide variety of solutions for creating local 5G networks.
Typical areas of application of local 5G for Fujitsu are factories, hospitals and plants. Fujitsu has been preparing 5G network creation solutions for these facilities. For factories, for example, Fujitsu has established high-capacity communication capabilities and low-latency communication capabilities as network requirements. The former will realize fast exchanges of high resolution image data, and the latter will be necessary for realizing safe and reliable remote control.
If you are considering using a local 5G network, it is recommended that you first identify (1) your network needs and (2) performance requirements for your local 5G network, and then design a network while consulting Fujitsu sales rep on how the local 5G network should work for your company.
People in the mobile industry worldwide are continuing to develop specifications, and carry out research and development to make 5G into a mobile network that supports society in the 2020's. Local 5G, which can bring about the results of these activities to areas where individual companies have needs, has the potential to be widely used as a technology to support in-house networks of the 2020's.
Clean Tech Laboratory Chief Research Officer
Mr. Hayashi joined Nikkei BP after graduating from the School of Engineering at Tohoku University in 1985. As a reporter and the editor-in-chief for the outlets such as "Nikkei Datapro," "Nikkei Communications," and "Nikkei Network," he has covered stories and contributed articles on topics encompassing cutting-edge communications/data processing technologies, as well as standardization/productization trends. He consecutively held the post of chief editor for "Nikkei BYTE" from 2002, "Nikkei Network" from 2005, and "Nikkei Communications" from 2007. In January 2014, he became the Chief Director of Overseas Operations after acting as the publisher for magazines including "ITpro," "Nikkei Systems," "Tech-On!," "Nikkei Electronics," "Nikkei Monozukuri," and "Nikkei Automotive." He has served at his present post since September 2015. Beginning August 2016, Mr. Hayashi has been writing a regular column, "Creating the Future with Automated Driving," in The Nikkei Digital Edition. Furthermore, he published the "Overview of International Automated Driving Development Projects" in December 2016 and the "Overview of International Automated Driving/Connected Cars Development" in December 2017. Mr. Hayashi has also been a judge for the CEATEC Award since 2011.