Managing the complexity of 5G in industry

As 5G deployment – in many and varied forms – comes closer to large-scale reality, we are already seeing vendors adapting or changing their offering in line with the new realities and business models 5G can accommodate. As 5G trials are being completed around the world more and more innovative approaches are being unearthed – and vendors are responding accordingly.

Ericsson, for example, has recently announced that it plans to cooperate with mobile service provider China Unicom to develop a 5G ‘smart’ harbour at the Port of Qingdao, China.

This is an entirely welcome development. Wireless can offer connectivity for complex infrastructure as efficiently and effectively as fibre but potentially at much lower cost. Pulling cable across large buildings and port environments can be time consuming, disruptive and expensive. Tethering autonomous cranes will reduce flexibility in the Port. It is an obvious choice for enhanced port connectivity. But it also makes new demands, Ericsson is positioned to meet them as are others that have more traditionally supplied the Telco market.

These demands necessitate new network architectures enabling delivery of ultra-low latency and improved coverage and a cloud solution using technology optimised for edge computing. The aim will be to deliver services, such as augmented reality and content distribution, affordably. There’s a lot to be excited about in this announcement. A 5G deployment enables IoT and Broadband, combined with AI and big data, and will be important to the future of industry and especially relevant to digital ports, where connected infrastructure, connected port ecosystems, and connected human and cyber security will all play a part in, potentially, the greatest leap forward for ports since containerisation.

But this won’t be an off-the-shelf solution. Some equipment – small cells, for example – will be relatively uniform. Much of the system will have to be bespoke. Remember, a port is using 5G and AI to manage the throughput or unloading of bulk cargo, liquid cargo (petrochemicals, oil or LNG) and consumer goods in containers, not to mention refuelling, and possibly even cruise ships arriving with holidaying passengers – at the same time on the same site with the involvement of multiple, very different companies.

These concepts are very familiar to Real Wireless from our work in 5G-MoNArch (5G Mobile Network Architecture), it’s good to see the wireless industry moving to address the opportunity. However, for the Ports and the industries that rely upon them, the pace and value proposition of innovations that are potentially unleashed by these new developments can and will be bewildering. Real Wireless works with clients to help structure the priorities and investment decision-making process.

We need to ask a few questions. Questions like: what are the connectivity obligations? Who are the players? What sort of cellular infrastructure will be needed? What sort of software? What sort of spectrum policy will apply? How much virtualisation or cloud support can be incorporated? Can 5G benefit the overall connectivity of a port while accommodating private network offerings? Is neutral host a reasonable approach? Could network slicing be an answer?

We have been analysing these questions and refining our answers through our techno-economic analysis framework in the context of the 5G-MoNArch Hamburg sea port testbed. This work is with Hamburg Port Authority (HPA), Deutsche Telekom and Nokia, all working on the first large-scale industrial commercial 5G trial at the third largest container port in Europe.

The implementation was carried out under the auspices of the 5G-MoNArch project, led by Nokia, in which Real Wireless is a partner. Implemented use cases in Hamburg have ranged from secure automated port operations to traffic management via connected, intelligent transportation systems.

This project showed us how well partnerships can work in enabling the use of 5G on a vast and complex site like the 8,000-hectare Port of Hamburg, with its multiple needs and requirements. It also helped us to understand the commercial and wider economic case for extending mobile networks (via network slicing in particular) to provide the sort of reliable and resilient industrial wireless services that would be needed in environments like Hamburg Port.

At the same time, it made it clear to us that the single vendor approach is just one of a number that could be applied. Yes, 5G will enhance the workings of even the most complex industry – which ports certainly are – but the ecosystem it requires will make demands of its own.

In some ports, user demands will radically differ. In fact all participants may start from a different place and have different public/private investment frameworks. A multiple-supplier ecosystem may be necessary.

Even with one company overseeing network development, multiple devices will be connecting to that network involving multiple device and equipment vendors. Public or private – or both – operator models will be deployed. Network slicing could play a part in enabling this. Neutral host may well be required. Skilled system integrators certainly will. And future-proofing (as far as possible) will be essential.

This new 5G world is about managing complexity – and port management is about as complex as it gets. A 5G-enhanced port needs to be equipped to allow for evolution and change. Foundations need to be built – structures that allow the port and its communications systems to evolve and respond to new challenges.

And it’s not just about ports. New ecosystems will come into play wherever 5G is applied to large industries, and strategies are going to have to change. In fact strategies will differ not just from one industry to another but from one use case to another. Which is why Real Wireless is building on its work on 5G for ports and other environments to help the world’s many – and very different – industries to find the right 5G strategies and ecosystems for their needs.

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