SAN DIEGO —If you believe Glenn Longley, VP for IoT product management at Inseego, manufacturers in the U.S. will be adapting to 5G connectivity within the next 18 months.
If you believe BeSpoon CEO Jean-Marie André, however, 5G is, as he put it, “too far away to be excited about.”
The two men shared their views in a space set up for a free-wheeling talk on 5G at the Industry of Things World conference here this month. The move to fifth-generation cellular networks, called 5G, is all about wireless data download speed—but just when it will arrive is up for debate.
“It will bring a lot of things, no doubt about that,” André said. “But it’s going to take some time to get things really working, especially in the industrial environment. We’ve been going through this: We develop precise indoor location solutions. So we know there’s a pure radio problem to be fixed. And there is a big difference between fixing this problem in an open space like here [in a cavernous, uncluttered hotel reception area], and in industrial environment, especially … where there is a lot of metal. From a radio perspective, that means a lot of reflections and attenuations. It makes everything extremely challenging. And it took a while for us to fine-tune a system that will be very robust and reliable in those kind of environments.”
André had just attended the Mobile World Congress in Barcelona—where a number of demonstrations were made of 5G. “A lot of them were fake, and a few of them were real but they were done in extremely difficult conditions where people were asked not to touch the samples and keep them in line with the transmitters,” he said. “That makes sense because 4G has just rolled out—so you can’t expect people to already be at the right level of maturity in 5G. It will probably come, but it will not be tomorrow.”
Whenever 5G does arrive, it will provide for manufacturers with the right connections “single digit or one millisecond latency” Longley said.
The demo he recalled from the recent Mobile World Congress was a doctor consulting in real time with an expert at a distance. At the most recent Consumer Electronics Show, Inseego demonstrated hotspots involved in a virtual reality pairing where two people were “trying to balance stuff over a VR system using the 5G network,” he said. It displayed single digit, millisecond latency—“the type of responsiveness you can’t get out of the cellular network today.”
Advocates also tout 5G’s ability to enable “all these new use cases,” such as the connected car—“real-time, remote support without the delay,” Longley said.
Inseego creates and builds devices for major cellular carriers, as well as Inseego-branded IoT solutions. One of its partnerships is with Cisco Meraki for its SD-WAN failure solution. And it is “partnered with technology leaders like Qualcomm” that provide “the 5G piece” in terms of chipsets, he said. “We work with them to integrate that into our solutions. We partner with the carriers, like Verizon, and industry leaders in terms of rollout.” Software-defined WAN Failover is a common use case for Inseego devices where companies need always-on connections and backup to hard-wired networks.
Today, 5G is “pretty limited in terms of where it’s available,” Longley said.
“The U.S. is a little bit different than the rest of the world,” he noted. “You’ve got 5G, the millimeter wave stuff, which is massive bandwidth, lots of additional potential speed. That’s what a lot of people focus on. But you’ve also got the 5G in the sub-six gigahertz band—where you may not get the same amount of massive bandwidth but you get the other benefits of 5G technology: very quick response, smaller cells, the availability to do single-digit or near-real-time-type operations.”
The Chinese giant Huawei, which is aggressively pursuing 5G around the world and has come under scrutiny for allegedly building backdoors into networking equipment that present security concerns, “covers the whole gamut” and is a competitor of Inseego’s in terms of industrial connectivity for devices, Longley said.
Understanding Unidirectional Nature
Manuel Pardavila, digital operations specialist at SUEZ-WTS North America, also took part in the discussion around the 5G discussion table. He works for the French firm in Washington, DC.
“In order to connect the facilities of our customers around the world and operate our cloud-based platform, we mainly use cellular connectivity (2G, 3G and 4G) to pool that data on the cloud online,” he said. His firm remotely controls and monitors operations at customer plants, for the likes of BP, Exxon Mobile, Nestle and Toyota.
The industry is facing some difficulty with regard to 5G because “there is not enough proof and information for its implementation in industrial environments,” Pardavila said, so he headed to San Diego to sort it all out.
One concern is that 5G is a unidirectional technology, which makes it more limited in terms of distance to cell towers than 4G technology, he said.
Another concern is that the initial plan to implement 5G by the network carrier is focused in urban areas, like Boston, New York or Washington, D.C., within the US. “We have clients all over the world—and this initial plan for 5G deployment makes the implementation of this technology difficult in those very early stages,” he added.
Pardavila believes 5G will “take time to be in place,” he said. “We just want to keep aligned with the technologies and trends within our industrial environment.”
Addressing Band Limitations
No matter when it arrives, 5G will be an integral part of smart manufacturing, show attendees suggested.
Kartikay Chaudhry, business development manager at the vehicle interiors company Faurecia, and Manny Rama, business development director at GadgEon, broke off from the larger table discussion to pow-wow on their own.
Chaudhry told Smart Manufacturing magazine he was trying to gain a better understanding of “what type of technologies can you use to bring the old-age plants to the new world” to achieve product connectivity in manufacturing operations.
“So, how do you take a big behemoth plastic molding machine and bring it to the new age, so everything from the line worker to the line supervisor to the plant manager (some of whom might be sitting in a headquarters in Paris) can see how plants are operating all the way down to the machine?” he asked rhetorically. “And how do you do asset tracking and things like that?”
Any manufacturer involved in autonomous vehicles (AVs) will need 5G to come up with “safety-related computationals” in AV tech stacks very quickly, Chaudhry said.
“At Faurecia, we’re all about in-vehicle experiences. So instead of having a dumb seat or a dumb dashboard or a dumb car door, everything is going to be embedded with sensors,” he said, envisioning “a car seat that can read your respiration rate, heartrate, how you’re interacting with different parts of the car.
“So for us, technologies like 5G allow us to again view those computationals really fast” and use cloud services to communicate them with everything connected to the AV stack, Chaudhry said. “We have a lot of farfetched ideas about what the in-vehicle experience might look like for the end consumer, but we might be band-limited in order to deliver that.”
Today, Faurecia uses the connectivity that each automotive brand provides.
“GM, for instance, has OnStar, which is 4G,” he said. “We use whatever the OEM or the car manufacturer might provide. So a lot of times, we are limited by the architecture presented to us.”