Industrial 5G has been one of the most discussed topics at the Hannover Messe this year. Several milestones were presented by Siemens and 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automaton. Leading industrial players shared their experience in 5G testing and research for industrial applications

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Industrial 5G was one of the most discussed topics at the Hannover Messe this year. 5G is seen as an important contributor to OT/IT integration and a future enabler of industrial connectivity with low latency, high data rates, and massive numbers of devices.

Adoption of 5G technology in industry is far behind the consumer space. First industrial standards are in development, and iterations of the 5G technology continue to be released (release 16 was finalised July 2020, and release 17 is scheduled for June 2022). There are still very few industrial 5G devices on the market, and Omdia’s 5G in Manufacturing - i5G report 2020 projects takeoff and scaling of industrial 5G applications starting from 2025.

Figure 1: Spending on industrial 5G in selected countries Figure 1: Spending on industrial 5G in selected countries Source: Omdia

But even now, 5G is recognized as a key future enabler of industrial digitalization and is an increasingly prevalent theme at industry events. At the Hannover exhibition, several milestones were presented by Siemens and 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automaton (ACIA, the 5G working group of the ZVEI Association).

ACIA highlighted the concepts of 5G integration in the industrial communication infrastructure

ACIA presented at the Hannover exhibition several white papers dedicated to 5G integration with existing and future industrial communication infrastructure.

One paper describes the benefits that can be achieved by introducing TSN and 5G wireless communication. It identifies the requirements of these applications to seamlessly integrate 5G with TSN. Time-sensitive networking (TSN) is a set of open standards that provide deterministic, reliable, high-bandwidth, low-latency communication. Both TSN and 5G are designed to enable converged communication across different industrials protocols and devices. The main advantage of the combination of both TSN and 5G is flexibility of the converged network infrastructure.

3GPP specified 5G support for TSN in Release 16, with further enhancements in Release 17. ACIA concludes, that 5G has been standardized with all the necessary support to seamlessly integrate with industrial TSN networks at the current stage. However, the TSN standardization is still ongoing, and upcoming 5G integration standards need to be continuously matched with TSN development.

The paper which elaborates on i5G integration by defining 5G Asset Administration Shell (ASS) is another important milestone in industrial 5G adoption. AAS describes the asset in a standardized manner and was developed to enable the interoperability and integration of Industry 4.0 components. AASs are used to create fully digital versions (digital twins) of all factory assets. These are about to be standardized within the scope of the International Electrotechnical Commission (IEC), and a new organization called “Industrial Digital Twin Association” is being established by ZVEI and VDMA to drive the implementation of AAS. The ACIA white paper develops a description of the 5G system based on AAS principles and elaborates on the future integration of 5G into the factory.

Integration of 5G with OPC UA, 5G device architecture, device certification, 5G testbeds and performance validation, QoS concepts, 5g and edge computing are all use cases that ACIA is working on, some in collaboration with the OPC UA and VDMA organizations.

The important message of these concepts is that the integration of 5G with industrial systems does not necessarily replace but complements and converges the existing communication infrastructure.

Siemens unique industrial 5G approach and first 5G router

Siemens is pursuing a unique strategy in industrial 5G: it plans to produce its own network infrastructure products and solutions, entering the traditional market of service and network providers with this approach. Siemens will be reliant on its better understanding of industrial applications, long experience in industrial production and solutions, and extensive partner and client networks.

Siemens has been testing and researching 5G in its own automotive test center in Nuremberg and has been testing its own private 5G infrastructure in its plants in Amberg and Karlsruhe.

Siemens projects that industrial 5G adoption will take-off in the next 3-5 years, when chipsets and devices will be available, and prices are no longer a leading barrier to adoption.

At the Hannover Messe, Siemens gave some deeper insights into its first industrial 5G router for connecting local industrial applications to a public 5G network. Scalance MUM856-1 (which was announced in November 2020) can be used for public and private networks, is IP65 certified and supports 4G so that operation is possible even if a 5G mobile network is not available.  The router is ideally suited to remote brownfield applications.

Large industrial players are evaluating and researching industrial 5G applications

At Hannover 2021, other leading industrial players shared their experience in 5G testing and research for industrial applications:

  • Frauenhofer Institute and Ericsson – Usage of 24–28GHz (mmWave) spectrum for collision detection sensor and acoustic emission sensor for detection of tool breakage. mmWave applications are of big interest for industry, due to the fast reaction time under one millisecond. However, the mmWave technology is new in industry, and the use cases are rare.
  • ABB and Ericsson – Communication between robots and control at the edge cloud. The important feature here is the edge cloud integration, which controls robots’ movements. 5G enables low latency communication and robust mobility, and moving functionality to the edge or edge cloud reduces the robot digital footprint.
  • Robert Bosch in Reutlingen and Ericsson – 5G factory automation and intralogistics in semiconductor factory, in clean room conditions. The target here is to evaluate 5G adoption for factory automation and intralogistics use cases in semiconductor production facilities.

Other 5G use cases included applications for AGVs, camera and position detection sensors, 3D sensors for quality assurance, mobile robotics, visual inspection, AR, HMI, mobile quality control, preventative maintenance, and virtualization of PLCs, industrial LAN/TSN over 5G

Now is the right time to explore 5G potential and build partner networks

Currently, industrial communication predominantly relies on wired solutions. According to Omdia’s Industrial Communication report 2020, only 2% of all industrial automation connections were wireless, out of which just 8% were cellular connections in 2020. In the future, manufacturing and process facilities will need to be increasingly flexible, with modular equipment and production approaches. Wireless solutions, including 5G and Wi-Fi 6, will be a key enabler of those concepts.

The major advantage of industrial 5G is the combination of low latency reliable communication, which is critical for industrial applications, and wireless cellular connectivity which enables flexibility and modularity of devices, production lines, production facilities and networks. 5G connectivity can be integrated with existing infrastructure, becoming a unified communication platform.

5G activities at the Hannover Messe prove that the technology is arriving in the industrial space. Leading industrial players such as Siemens, Bosch, and ABB are testing the technology in new applications. In 2020, industrial verticals accounted for more than 50% of all private LTE and 5G announcements, according to Omdia’s Private LTE and 5G Networks Tracker – 4Q20. Manufacturing is leading the announcements rating, followed by transportation and logistics, and energy and mining.

5G is still a future-oriented technology. It is the right time for companies to assess technological requirements, evaluate potential applications and to buildpartners and alliances.


Further reading

Industrial Communications Report – 2020 (November 2020)

5G in Manufacturing - i5G Report - 2020 (August 2020)

LTE and 5G Private Networks Tracker Report – 2020 (February 2021)


Anna Ahrens, Senior Research Analyst, Manufacturing Technology

Omdia Consulting

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