Earlier this year, 3GPP release 17 was successfully launched, addressing many of the new requirements set by mobile network operators and industry verticals.
Building on previous releases, it will support 5G’s ability to enter more vertical industries, effectively accelerating industrial IoT (IIoT). 5G has long been seen as a key accelerator of Industry 4.0 by enabling high bandwidth and extremely reliable communications for a massive number of connected devices, improving mobility on the factory floor.
Here are our top three takeaways on how 3GPP release 17 benefits both IIoT and the mobile ecosystem as a whole.
1. Global coverage for massive deployments
Perhaps the biggest impact of the release is that LEO/ GEO satellite networks will be able to complement the coverage provided by terrestrial networks, bringing 5G coverage anywhere on earth. The non-terrestrial networks (NTN) can provide coverage in underserved and rural areas, such as oceans and deserts.
Non-terrestrial networks are not expected to replace the terrestrial networks, but will instead complement them, enabling mobile connectivity services in rural places which were previously considered as non-business viable, due to insufficient return on investment.
Why is this important?
With coverage now feasible worldwide, another barrier has been removed when it comes to enabling large-scale adoption of massive IoT. This update will support more diverse use cases, globally connecting your things and appliances, from utilities and transportation to environmental monitoring.
This capability also means the industry has passed a huge milestone in bridging the digital divide. The combination of terrestrial and non-terrestrial networks will help to connect remote and rural areas across the world. Beyond the opportunities for IIoT, this could be life-changing for communities worldwide, bringing connectivity and emergency services to everyone, even in traditionally underserved areas.
2. Safer human-robot interactions on the factory floor
Release 17 will bring great enhancements to ultra-reliable, low latency communications (URLCC) in unlicensed spectrum environments, addressing the mission-critical connectivity needs of industry verticals.
Why is this important?
The factory of the future is moving towards transformative automations using private 5G wireless network technology. The stability and reliability of 5G URLLC supports the mission-critical connectivity needs and in turn increases safety and efficiency on the factory floor by allowing instant responses and very high reliable communications. For example, should a worker reach into an operating robot’s cell, the robot will stop immediately in a way that wasn’t possible before.
Plus, losing wires means gaining more flexibility and mobility in the production line. This has the potential to revolutionize productivity environments, by enabling new efficiency gains.
5G-enabled factory automation can also enable pre-emptive no-touch maintenance and updates of equipment, video-driven machine-human interactions, and augmented reality or virtual reality-based maintenance and training – all of which increase productivity and safety.
3. Accurate tracking of connected devices
As well as enabling global coverage and improving in-factory safety, the release has focused on enhancing reliable and accurate location tracking for IIoT. 5G new radio (NR) positioning offers vast improvements over its predecessors (LTE in release 15, and time-based positioning methods in release 16).
Why is this important?
Release 17 can support location tracking for connected devices that is accurate up to 20 cm. This precise tracking can enable new automation use cases that have never been possible until today. For example, it will facilitate the safe and autonomous operation of equipment in industrial spaces, such as forklifts or uncrewed aerial vehicles (UAV). These autonomous forklifts or UAVs will be constantly tracked and supported by collision avoidance systems, leveraging the 5G precise positioning features. It will also provide complete visibility across global supply chains, enabling companies to track their goods, ensure provenance, and more.
What will 3GPP release 18 bring?
Release 18 will be named 5G Advanced. Its dual purpose is to strengthen the 5G system foundation of previous releases and to accelerate the deployment of 5G to all devices and use cases. Work has already begun with 5G Advanced expected to be delivered in early 2024. It is expected to further address new industry vertical needs, encompassing use-cases from the metaverse, extended reality (XR) up to AI/ ML data-driven use cases. Another focus will be to boost footprint and network efficiencies, contributing to a greener and more energy efficient 5G network.
If you would like to find out more about how we can help you optimize your IIoT operations and benefit from advanced 5G services, get in touch today.
An article by Kenneth Hardat, Senior Product Manager 5G Solutions at BICS.