5G ushers in a low-latency industrial revolution

5G and its ability to deliver highly reliable, low-latency communications is powering the next industrial revolution. That’s the message Dr. Kenneth C. Budka, Senior Partner, Bell Labs Consulting, delivered in his opening keynote at the Brooklyn 5G Summit today, which is being streamed live by the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE).

Whether you call it the third or fourth industrial revolution, or “the automation of everything” as Budka does, it is made possible by digital interfaces controlling devices and machines, by machine learning and artificial intelligence combined with a highly reliable, low-latency network to connect it all. Nokia Bell Labs refers to this is as the ‘the Future X Network’.

“The way we’ve coped with traffic growth is by building bigger pipes and putting fiber deeper into the network,” Budka explained. “As we move to this next industrial revolution, applications will require much lower latency.”

The difference between life and death

An application like autonomous vehicles, for example, does not send a lot of data, but it requires that the delay be  well below 10 milliseconds, likely down to 1 millisecond.

“Vehicles need to stop and quickly brake,” Budka said. “The difference between 4G at a 100-millisecond delay and 5G at 1 millisecond is on the order of half a car length. Half a car length can mean the difference between life and death.”

At the other extreme are applications that require extremely low latency and very high bandwidth. An example is virtual reality (VR). A human’s vestibular optical reflex can cause nausea if a VR experience is plagued by disruptions because of latency, Budka noted.

In the past, delay hasn’t been a big issue so infrastructure has been centralized in the core of the network. “In this new world where latency really matters, we have to bring the network closer and closer to the user,” Budka said. “A lot of processing we used to do in core we now need to do at edge.”

5G combined with IoE offers the opportunity to create new business models. In the example of connected cars, network operators and their partners will be able to create platoons of autonomous vehicles. They will be able to add more vehicles to a highway system and increase fuel efficiency, for example, by operating the vehicles more closely together.

“But you need to control distance between cars,” Budka warned. “Imagine something goes wrong at the head of this platoon. In response to an outage or failure you can send commands to individual cars to avoid collisions. That needs to happen at very low latency for it to work.”

Industrial automation of jobs that are dangerous for humans is another application requiring low latency connectivity. An automated welding system, for example, requires very tightly controlled positioning of robots.

“In the future world, we envision all sensors being wirelessly connected and all the robots themselves being connected,” he said. “In that type of industrial environment, extremely low latency will be a huge benefit.”

Keys to success

Budka laid out four “key ingredients” to address for 5G success:

  1. Wireless control – “Separating sensors and actuators from wires will free our ability to operate in space and give us access to much wider and richer set of info.”
  2. Networked intelligence – “Industrial control requires a level of networked intelligence where we can throw lots of CPU power to understand our world and make sense.”
  3. Low latency – “Low delay will let us accurately position and control devices at rapid tempo.”
  4. Robotics – “Teleoperation, being able to support humans in the loop where it is too dangerous to operate or inefficient to have them operate devices, requires 5G.


    About The Author

    Managing Editor

    Dawn Bushaus began her career in technology journalism in 1989 at Telephony magazine, which means she’s been writing about networking for a quarter century. (She wishes she didn’t have to admit that because it probably gives you a good idea of how old she really is.) In 1996, Dawn joined a team of journalists to start a McGraw-Hill publication called, and in 2000, she helped a team at Ziff-Davis launch The Net Economy, where she held senior writing and editing positions. Prior to joining TM Forum, she worked as a freelance analyst for Heavy Reading.

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