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LEAD Innovation Blog

Read our latest articles on innovation management and innovation in a wide range of industries.

Date: 14-Jan-2019
Posted by: Daniel ZAPFL

Why Industry 4.0 needs robust networks and new mobile communications standards

 

Mobile networks are designed for telephony and mobile data transmission. When it comes to networking machines (M2M) or things (Internet of Things), other qualities are needed. Read in this blog post why Industry 4.0 needs robust networks and which new mobile radio standards are available for this purpose.

As a smartphone user, you know for yourself: Aborted telephone calls or slow mobile data connections are part of everyday life. The fast and powerful LTE standard (4G) has unfortunately not changed this. As well as: The demands on the mobile network are increasing rapidly. For example, an average mobile phone customer consumes 3 gigabytes per month. This is almost 70 percent more than a year ago. Since autumn 2015 there have already been more mobile phone connections on this earth than people. And now machines and devices are also to be connected via the web: The market research company Gartner already had more than 6 billion devices connected to the Internet in 2016 and plans to increase this number to around 21 billion by 2020.

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M2M and IoT require new connection qualities

Industry 4.0 on the basis of the existing network infrastructure is therefore neither possible nor conceivable. The requirements of equipment and machines would not only place an undue burden on the network. Industry 4.0 and the Internet of Things also place different demands on the infrastructure than human users:

  • The connection must be stable and fail-safe. Systems or devices that are suddenly no longer accessible would be too great a risk. At the same time, however, safety nets built up at the same time would be too expensive and a failure to address the issue. You don't have to carry a landline with you in order to be reachable in the event of a mobile network failure.
  • The connection must be stable and fail-safe. Systems or devices that are suddenly no longer accessible would be too great a risk. At the same time, however, safety nets built up at the same time would be too expensive and a failure to address the issue. You don't have to carry a landline with you in order to be reachable in the event of a mobile network failure.
  • The connection itself must be able to penetrate buildings. Conventional mobile phone technology often capitulates to thick walls and deep cellars. But it is precisely there that you often find devices that you would like to network, because the location is also difficult for people to access. Think of gas or water meters, for example.
  • The signal must be able to bridge long ranges. If you integrate containers, farm animals or even garbage bins into the web, then these should always remain connected despite their mobility.
  • The networking of devices should be as inexpensive as possible both during installation and operation. Since the charm of Industry 4.0 lies in the combination of many components, a high price for hardware and data connection would be a hindrance. Often the networked devices only transfer a small amount of data. For example, think of sensors that measure the wind speed on a wind turbine.
  • The latency time, or better said reaction speed of the mobile network, is not important in some Industry 4.0 applications. Whether you have to wait a few milliseconds more or less for the level of a water tank is irrelevant. However, the latency time is becoming critical in virtual reality applications, for example. Because if a remote server takes too long to react to the head movements of the wearer of VR glasses, then he gets sick. Because the image and its movements don't match.

 

NB-IoT adapts to the requirements of the machines

In the summer of 2016, the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) approved a new mobile communications standard that will overcome some of the hurdles described above. Narrowband IoT, or NB-IoT for short, offers some features that are in great demand in industry 4.0:

  • Because the transmission and reception budget at NB-IoT is 20 decibels higher than that of GSM, the new standard achieves excellent building penetration. Devices to be networked in the basement are no more of a problem than sensors in the ground.
  • The costs for both the modem (about five euros) and data transmission are very low. Especially with Industry 4.0 applications, often only the transmission of a small amount of data and no permanent connection is necessary.
  • NB-IoT also uses energy very sparingly. One sensor can be operated with two commercially available AA batteries for 10 years. This is extremely practical: Sensors are often located in places that are very difficult to access. 
  • Because NB-IoT is based on 3GPP standards and the technology is operated in existing networks in the licensed spectrum. This guarantees stability, reliability and future security.
  • NB-IoT achieves a very long range of more than ten kilometres. This also allows a better supply of previously underserved areas. At the same time, tracking of moving objects such as containers is made easier. 
  • A radio cell can network up to 100,000 devices via NB-IoT. For comparison: The capacity of an LTE radio cell is up to 200 active participants.
  • NB-IoT can be operated in existing mobile radio networks. New transmission masts are therefore not necessary. Upgrading the infrastructure is relatively quick and easy: Deutsche Telekom, for example, has made its infrastructure NB-IoT-compatible by means of a software update.

The mobile standard for the Internet of Things will also be available very soon. Europe's largest telecommunications company, Deutsche Telekom, is planning a commercial launch in the second quarter of 2017, but the technology is soon to be expanded nationwide in Austria.

 

5G will cover all your needs

However, NB-IoT is not made for all M2M or IoT applications. Use cases such as autonomous driving or remote operations make it necessary, for example, for data to be transmitted almost in real time. The latency times of NB-IoT of 1.6 to 10 seconds are really not suitable for this. However, the required values of less than one millisecond are offered by another mobile phone standard that is already being feverishly worked on: 5G. The next generation of the mobile network is scheduled for 2020. NB-IoT is an intermediate step here that should provide the industry 4.0 with robust networks. An intermediate step, which will soon also make life easier for drivers. T-Mobile Austria is currently using NB-IoT for a smart parking field test. In real operation, this should make it considerably easier for drivers to find a parking space.

 

Conclusion: Why Industry 4.0 needs robust networks and new mobile communications standards

If the technology fails, people can improvise. Machines can't do that. That's why robust networks are an important success criterion for industry 4.0. Until now, mobile operators have geared the construction of their communication networks to the needs of human users. The focus was on providing as many users as possible with the fastest and most efficient infrastructure possible. When it comes to networking machines and things, however, other qualities are required. NB-IoT is expected to cover part of this very soon. 5G, which plays all the pieces because it actually consists of several different networks, won't be long in coming.

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Daniel ZAPFL

Born in Graz, Austria. After positions as project manager & head of innovation of the project management at LEAD Innovation, Daniel Zapfl has been responsible for the success of the innovation projects of our innovation partners since January 2018.

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