ZVEI Interview: “5G Is the Next Big Step toward Industry 4.0”

In Germany, auctions for 5G frequencies are in full swing. This is especially relevant for private users. But what about 5G in industry? We talked to Gunther Koschnick, Managing Director of the automation division at ZVEI, about this.

What Is 5G?
5G is the fifth generation of cellular communications and the successor to LTE. It can transfer data at least 100 times faster. Additionally, significantly more devices can be supported by a cell site compared to previous standards – without interruption.

Content Team: Mr. Koschnick, cell phone operators are purchasing individual frequency bands in the 5G network for large sums of money at auctions. As early as 2018, ZVEI had already made a bid its own frequency band for industry. What came from this?

Gunther Koschnick: Our application was accepted by the Bundesnetzagentur (Federal Network Agency). Industrial companies will therefore have exclusive access to a frequency bandwidth of 100 megahertz in the future. We were able to convince the Bundesnetzagentur and the Bundeswirtschaftsministerium (Federal Ministry of Economics) that having its own band is a clear competitive advantage for Germany as an industrial nation.

Why does the industrial sector need its own frequencies?

By having its own network, the industrial sector can improve performance and availability. We have to expect that private customers will widely use the 5G network in the future. This means transmitting large volumes of data, such as those that are required for 4K video streaming. If the industrial sector uses the same frequencies, it cannot take full advantage of 5G technology. Communicating in near-real time with cycle times in the microsecond range would not be possible. But that’s exactly what we need 5G for.

At the same time, it’s also about security and trust. Without their own network, industrial companies would have to transfer their internal data via public networks from providers. No enterprise is realistically going to do that. Operators want to be in control of their own plants.

Why can’t operators use existing wireless technologies like LTE and WLAN?

These communication standards are not entirely suitable for the requirements of Industry 4.0. Let’s take LTE. In intelligently networked plants and process chains, we have to connect a large number of objects – from field devices and products to entire plants and individual components. The number of objects alone pushes LTE to its limit. In addition, the latencies are too high, and reliability is not good enough. These problems do not occur with 5G as the technology uses the available spectrum considerably more efficiently.

“The industrial sector must be able to trust the 5G network.”
Gunther Koschnick,
Managing Director of the Automation Division, ZVEI

You won’t get any further with WLAN either. If half of a company’s employees are active in the 2.4 GHz band via their smartphones at the same time when changing shifts – using WLAN and Bluetooth – the network will be too overloaded for critical applications.

In which fields of application does 5G add value?

Let’s say you want to know more about your plant. How many machines are running and for how long each day? When do temperature fluctuations happen and under which conditions? Where does vibration occur? You can find all of this out by installing sensors, transferring the data to your cloud platform, and analyzing it with manufacturing execution system (MES) software. This gives you an overview of the system, which cannot be provided by control and regulation functions alone. By integrating aspects such as intralogistics and augmented reality, you enable completely new functions. For this to work effectively, data from numerous transmitters must be transferred as quickly as possible. At the moment, we’re mainly seeing test applications. BASF, for example, uses driverless tankers in intralogistics, and real-time video monitoring is possible via its 5G network.

During the 5G auctions, there was a feeling that Germany was rather late to start dealing with the technology. Is this the case?

As far as the consumer sector is concerned, this may be true. China and South Korea are certainly ahead of Germany. In the industrial sector, the situation is completely different. At ZVEI, we founded a work group called 5G-ACIA (5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation). Its aim is to examine the business, technical, and regulatory aspects of 5G, contribute to defining industry standards, and develop best practices. 5G-ACIA is based in Germany but has 50 members worldwide. Members include ABB and FESTO as well as Qualcomm and ZTE. There is an equivalent for the automotive industry named 5GAA – also based in Germany.

So, the frequency band is secure, and testing is in full swing. What’s the next step?

There are three prerequisites for establishing 5G in industry. First of all, companies must start to accept the technology – this will happen quickly as companies can set up their own networks. Secondly, the right hardware must be readily available. This may take a while. Finally, the transition to 5G requires a comprehensive definition of the communication standard. This definition is already in place for most industry parameters, and it should be complete by the end of the year. In two to three years, 5G is likely to be established in the industrial sector. Anyone wishing to use the reserved frequency band must apply to the Bundesnetzagentur. The web portal for this will soon be available.