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Use of industrial 5G, most commonly implemented in the form of private networks, will undoubtedly continue to expand thanks to its huge promise in terms of personal and data safety, maintenance of installations, and process performance. Thierry Delpech, Industry 5.0 expert at Actemium, gives us an overview of the situation.

Driven by the digital revolution and ecological transition, French industry is making fundamental changes to its models and tools, and the growth of 5G is offering businesses opportunities to accelerate their transformation.

Unlike previous mobile network technologies such as 3G and 4G, 5G was designed for use in business, especially industry and infrastructure. In particular, 5G can be an asset when deploying wireless networks in installations that require high levels of coverage, speed and security.

What are the key advantages of the fifth generation of mobile telephony standards? It offers higher bandwidth (at least 10 times that of 4G), latency in the order of one millisecond, capacity for a million connected objects per square kilometre, and improved cybersecurity.

Development of specific applications

In the world of industry, 5G is mainly taking hold in the form of private local networks that are independent of public networks, reducing their exposure to public interfaces and protecting businesses from the risk of congestion.

Thierry Delpech is an Industry 5.0 expert at Actemium, the VINCI Energies brand specialising in industrial processes. He explains: “Private 5G presents numerous advantages for manufacturers mindful of keeping their data secure from external and internal threats. It also allows enormous quantities of data to be processed, given the proliferation of data sources.”

In a private configuration, businesses take ownership of frequency bands, issued by the local regulator (e.g. Arcep in France) on payment of a licence. Network service zones are divided into small areas called cells. The ability to “slice” the 5G network allows businesses to define multiple virtual networks on shared physical infrastructure, with each optimised for a specific group of applications.

Private 5G also makes it possible to tailor service levels to the criticality of each operation. As the sole administrators of their networks, businesses can define different levels of priority access according to their needs.

“In sectors like chemicals or petrochemicals, where production sites are often very spread out, owning their own networks allows operators to configure service quality priorities to cater for emergencies,” says Thierry Delpech. “In alert situations for example, evacuation orders will be transmitted seamlessly, even to employees who are quite remote.”

This is thanks to one of the main benefits of 5G in industrial situations, namely its coverage outdoors, where Wi-Fi is often impractical.

Supplementing Wi-Fi

Another major application for 5G is mobile connection for automated guided and remotely controlled vehicles, IoT devices, and virtual-reality remote maintenance. It makes tours of inspection, safety audits and maintenance operations more efficient by enabling operators equipped with tablets or smartphones to capture, input and share data in real time.

In Europe, industrial 5G is currently most used in Germany, especially in the automotive industry, where private networks are used to securely transmit data to production-line robots with minimal latency.

And in France? “Communication technologies such as Wi-Fi, and even wired technologies, are still eminently suited to certain applications,” says Thierry Delpech. “5G is therefore more a supplement than a replacement technology. But the lower costs for acquiring frequency bands decided in early 2023 really sparked interest among manufacturers.”

Unlike operator networks, private 4G and 5G were specifically designed for use in business.

Actemium Rennes is involved in numerous projects to interconnect autonomous mobile robots (AMR) so they can communicate with their industrial environment indoors or outdoors. With 5G, large amounts of data can be exchanged – video streams for example. It also makes the network far less susceptible to the interference generated by some of the equipment on industrial sites.

At a specialist chemical site in the Centre-Val de Loire region, Axians teams are currently working to replace an old walkie-talkie network with a “push-to-talk” system on a private 5G network. This system migration also makes it possible to perform scans and connect industrial equipment in ATEX zones not accessible via the Wi-Fi network.

“5G is still in its infancy, primarily due to a limited ecosystem of equipment and terminals,” notes Thierry Delpech. “To work around this, we are recommending installation of a private 4G network that can be upgraded to 5G without adding any extra infrastructure. That way, manufacturers can familiarise themselves with the technology and gradually introduce new uses when they become mature.”