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5G-ACIA a tale of technological communication

  • 7 minute read
  • Published by Simon Rockman on 10 Feb 2020
  • Last modified 12 Feb 2020
The message behind the 5G ACIA conference at the Coventy Ricoh Arena was one of language. Held in the UK’s industrial heartland the speakers were international. If a tale of a Frenchman, German and Finn walking into a room sounds like the start of the joke, the punchline is that the West Midlands leads the UK in 5G and the UK leads Europe.

The job of the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) is to understand the possibilities of 5G and the requirements of industry, in particular manufacturing, to examine, and shape its feature set. It looks at the opportunities 5G offers for manufacturers and works with them to implement the quality and efficiency gains that can be achieved from implementing the technology as well as feeding back into the 5G standards bodies to enhance the capabilities.

The chair of the association is Dr. Andreas Mueller from Bosch. He took up the mantle for an industry which needs vibration and temperature sensors to be connected in challenging conditions. He looked at how 5G connectivity can help decentralize materials and goods, move tools and equipment, and run predictive maintenance. He looks to automotive as the sector which has led in industrial automation.  It is, however, language that is at the focus of what ACIA does. It translates between the terms used by the manufacturing industry and those used by telecoms.

Part of the role of the 59 member organisations of the ACIA is to teach each other. There are events all through the year and around the world to help with this. The next one is in Tokyo in March. International delegates also, of course, come to other countries to learn, and Ian Smith, programme director for the UK 5G Testbed and Trials programme began the workshop talking about the breadth and depth of the government funded programmes in the UK - which includes identified productivity gains through industrial automation in Worcestershire.  

The tone was set by Igor Leprince, chair of West Midlands 5G and the host organisation for the event.  Despite being French, he seems very at home in a place where they speak Brummie. Leprince talked about how the objectives of WM5G align with those of ACIA.

“The core of our ambition, of our mission is to test, to prove and to scale 5G use cases across seven cities, especially in vertical industries”.

Leprince also looked to areas outside of manufacturing: personal mobility, public transport, Coventry as the city of culture in 2021 and the Commonwealth games in Birmingham in 2022. To help build a 5G presence WM5G is setting up new accelerators where developers can work together and be supported by the WM5G team. The organisation is also collating data on 5G sites and roll-out and has built a tool which can be used to help plan projects. And it’s from a good starting position, Leprince saying “If you look at that, you are in the top three cities of course, Birmingham, Wolverhampton and Coventry have some 5G, but there are another fifteen towns across the West Midlands that also today have 5G coverage.

“The credit for that is clearly with our partner the operators but we have worked relentlessly in achieving making sure it gets easier and faster, and sometimes gets cheaper, working with the local authorities and local councils, so when an operator is looking at a new place, they know what they're going to find.”

To give some scale of the achievement Leprince explained “To think about Paris or France or Germany or some of the other countries Andreas Muller, the 5G-ACIA Chair, and I are from, 5G is not even launched. So it's an extraordinary achievement for the UK to have reached that sort of result.

But if industry runs on roads and rail, telecoms runs on spectrum, so an important contributor to the debate was Federico Boccardi, Principal Technology Advisor at Ofcom. And he was on firm ground because Ofcom is doing a lot to foster 5G development in industry, particularly with enabling spectrum use within private networks.

The position of strength comes from listening, which is important for an organisation centred on communication. Ofcom organised a series of workshops and it’s the insight from these which have shaped regulation. Boccardi explained that it’s important to understand that while a factory might have an IT department, not all places which need 5G connectivity do.

“We organized a workshop in Wales where we met some farmers and farming associations. What I learned is that in Wales many of these farms are a family run. So you might not have the same skills that you could have in the other industrial situations”.

And it goes beyond the UK “The second step is needing to engage not only UK but internationally to understand what are the policy barriers and what we can do to those barriers for the deployment of these technologies. One if the things I've been doing in this space is to understand net neutrality regulation. And what I can say is that we don't see net neutrality as a showstopper, as a barrier for services because these are specialized services”.

Boccardi talked about Ofcom’s leadership over 3.8 Ghz to 4.2 GHz which has now seen Japan and America adopting the bands. International co-operation is important to persuade device manufacturers to support the frequencies. Boccardi looked to more bandwidth and higher frequencies “Very recently, we published some dissertations. One is about new spectrum bands in the 100GHz to 200GHz range. This is more for the future, but this could enable very new services. For example, centimetre positioning, global positioning with accuracy of centimetres or less.”

To help define requirements the ACIA membership has five working groups

1.       Use cases and requirements of which Michael Bahr from Siemens is the Chair

2.       Spectrum and operator models where Jose Prats from Bosch is the Chair

3.       Architecture and technology where Atte Lansisalmi of Nokia is Vice Chair

4.       Liaisons and dissemination with Infineon’s Uwe Rueddenklau as Vice Chair

5.       Validation and tests chaired by technology research institute Ifak’s Dr. Lutz Rauchhaupt

Naturally given the crossover between the working groups there is a lot of liaison. Michael Bahr said “All these are only possible if there's a dialogue between operational technology or manufacturing companies and networking IT companies from the technological or communication area.” He adds  “It's really interesting to see how different the ideas are that we're seeing short term and long term”, and he notes “there are many different opinions on what is really necessary to talk about but  in constructive way, discussing what this actually meant and needed in order to really understand what are the real needs of the industrial automation applications are.”

The attendees of the event had very differing amounts of understanding of manufacturing, industry and 5G. Some expert on one field, some with an overview of all three and some with a local authority background were there to learn about all aspects of 5G and industry.  To give a visceral feeling of the benefits, the event organised a series of moderated work groups looking at use cases of Preventative Maintenance, Remote Expert, Virtual teams, Worker Safety, and Supply Chain. They explored the possibilities and consequences of implementing automation using 5G and aspects such as allowing those in charge of worker safety to ensure that protective clothing is being worn correctly. In preventative maintenance, an AI system could learn about the need for servicing. While some had concerns that automation would lead to deskilling of the workforce it was appreciated that what might be deskilling for one person is training and up skilling for another.

The event showed that 5G has a huge amount to learn about just the one use-case of automation of manufacturing. Multiply that up by all the use cases such as future mobility, creative industries, healthcare and the like and you soon realise what a game changer 5G is going to be.  If 5G is a form of communication the important skill will be listening. To do that will mean mastering all the jargon and languages spoken by those industries.