Consider Private Cellular to Enable Industry 4.0
By Nathan McGregor, SVP Asia Pacific, Cradlepoint
Wednesday, 01 March, 2023
The Australian Government’s National Reconstruction Fund (NRF) provides an opportunity for Australian enterprises to leverage Australia’s 5G competitive advantage to lead in the application of 5G-based digital solutions in priority areas. The NRF has the potential to support projects that seed the market to drive 5G-enabled enterprise digitalisation, from advanced manufacturing to mining operations, retail shopping and distribution centres, transport, ports, and logistics. It can also lower barriers to adoption to promote accelerated evaluation and production adoption of digitalisation initiatives enabled by 5G and help drive Industry 4.0 in Australia. While these use cases can choose between a number of traditional wireless connectivity approaches — Wi-Fi or public mobile networks (4G or 5G) — performance, coverage and control requirements of Industry 4.0 often require more. This is where private cellular has become an enabler for early Industry 4.0 adopters globally and should be considered a go-to-platform for Australia too.
Private cellular in practice
Private cellular networks are similar to public cellular networks in that they utilise the same base 4G or 5G technologies, but differ in that they are owned by enterprise, dedicated to a specific site, and designed and operated to an enterprise’s specific Industry 4.0 needs. The equipment solutions behind these networks are right-sized for industry, simpler to deploy and simpler to operate than their much larger public network alternatives.
A major feature of private cellular networks is that data does not leave the site and always remains behind the secure cyber and physical perimeter of the enterprise. Data is also protected by strong multi-layered, end-to-end security measures, and these networks are not shared with other users.
Licensed radio spectrum is required for private cellular and provides a level of operational security versus Wi-Fi: no other operator is allowed to use the same spectrum in the same area. This restricts private cellular use to areas where enterprises can cost effectively license spectrum, which is currently in remote and some regional parts of Australia, however this is expected to change dramatically over the next 1–2 years as Australia follows other countries and introduces industry spectrum options in all metro, regional and remote markets.
Where to use private cellular vs. Wi-Fi
Private cellular is mainly associated with select verticals today where there are complex networking challenges and low-latency, high reliability needs, such as ports of entry, oil refineries and off-shore platforms, manufacturing plants, and mines: often with hundreds of users and devices spread across a localised or campus area. Wi-Fi is not effective in these circumstances and better suited for more compact areas and IT needs, where connection density, concurrency of use, bandwidth allocation, and security requirements are less demanding.
Private cellular can offer a lower total cost of ownership than deploying widespread Wi-Fi. The volume of access points and backhaul cabling it takes for Wi-Fi to work well in large facilities makes it a costly investment, with a much longer lead time to deploy. Private cellular (4G and 5G) reach much farther and support more concurrent connections than Wi-Fi access points. In a large area, this means significant hardware savings for cellular broadband.
Performance and reliability
Wi-Fi also struggles to deliver consistent performance required by high-bandwidth and low latency applications, such as autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), robot control systems, XR-enabled connected workers and AI and ML-supported video as a sensor. Private cellular enables granular control over device performance, and the ability to enforce end-to-end policies that govern quality of service, throughput, latency, and loss targets.
Migrating across different wireless technologies
There is a growing benefit from adopting a heterogenous approach to wireless connectivity in enterprises, particularly those moving into Industry 4.0. With the right Wireless WAN solutions provider, organisations can invest in edge devices today that can evolve with their wireless strategy from Wi-Fi to cellular, or allow their operations to utilise all three approaches in a single strategy. Devices that connect via Wi-Fi, private cellular or public 5G networks, managed via a single operating platform, enable Industry 4.0, and protect investments over the long-term.
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