Is 5G fit for industrial IoT?

5G is driving change in the industrial Internet of Things (IIoT). Its high speeds and responsiveness are enabling new solutions, such as autonomous vehicles, smart factories and workplace wearables. But as many IIoT applications don’t require this degree of speed or responsiveness, 4G is often the best solution.

When designing wireless mobile devices, engineers should consider which network technology offers the best combination of features and benefits for the device and its application.

How does 5G enable new applications?

There are three key services within 5G architecture that deliver benefits that enable innovative mobile IIoT applications:

  1. Massive Machine-Type Communications (mMTC) connects large numbers of devices, as many as 1m devices per square kilometre.
  2. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) provides faster download speeds that enable high bandwidth applications, such as augmented/virtual reality (AR and VR) and streaming.
  3. Ultra-reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) delivers a connection with low latency, in theory to a millisecond, and high security, optimal for secure mission-critical applications that require high responsiveness.

5G also provides high bandwidth capacity, using multiple-input multiple-output (MIMO) technology.

The sheer device density of mMTC enables applications such as smart cities and smart utilities, as well as factories and plants of the future. The combination of eMBB and URLLC supports autonomous vehicle and industrial machinery applications.

For example, Komatsu’s Autonomous Haulage System (AHS) for its mining trucks currently runs on a private wireless 4G/LTE network. The business believes that a 5G upgrade will accelerate the automation of equipment that’s still operated manually, such as diggers, ore-haulers, crushers and trains.

Which IIoT applications work best with 4G?

One of the main advantages of 4G is coverage and reliability. It is widely available globally and has a strong performance track record. In contrast, 5G coverage is limited and still being introduced to many countries.

4G devices are generally cheaper, as the technology is more mature and not as demanding of the device’s capabilities.

IIoT applications, like asset tracking solutions and alarms, utility meters, some types of wearables and sensors in, for example, plants and along pipelines, just do not need the enhanced performance 5G provides.

4G networks can provide connectivity for around 2000 devices per square kilometre, typical speeds of 30 Mbps, and latency about ten times that of 5G. For an asset monitoring solution, such as keeping track of tools in a factory, the device density can be high but the speed, data loads and latency requirements are all low. As a result, 4G is the optimal solution.

Is 5G the best solution for IIoT devices?

As 4G usage and availability is forecast to continue growing until at least 2026, whether 5G is the optimal network choice for an IIoT application depends on the application and its target performance criteria.

If the application has the following performance requirements:

  • High device density of as many as 1m devices per square kilometre
  • Data speeds of up to 10 Gbps, on average 50 Mbps to 3 Gbps
  • High network reliability, more than 99.999%
  • Extremely low latency of approximately 1 ms for data transmission

Then a 5G solution and 5G-enabled devices are usually the solution for the IIoT application.

Choosing device antennas for 5G and 4G IIoT applications

‘Fitness for purpose’ is the guiding principle when specifying mobile devices and their components. Both 5G and 4G offer solutions for IIoT applications. Antennas for 5G and 4G have different requirements in terms of ground plane and space, so can impact on final device size.

We recommend that antenna selection forms part of the early design stages of your device to ensure optimal performance and compliance with network carrier requirements. To see our full range of antennas for cellular devices – including 5G and 4G – browse our range of antennas or download our antenna comparison guide.

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