5G-ENCODE is a pioneering project looking to make the benefits of 5G technology a reality for UK manufacturers. The project is one of the UK government’s biggest investments in 5G for manufacturing to date and has been set up to establish clear business cases and value propositions for the application of 5G technology in manufacturing.
Led by Zeetta Networks, activity started in early 2020 and will run until March 2022. The key objective is to design and deliver a private 5G network within the National Composites Centre. This will be used to explore new business models and 5G technologies, including network slicing and splicing, within an industrial environment. Specifically, activity will focus on three areas:
- AR/VR to support design, manufacturing and training
- Monitoring and tracking of time sensitive assets
- Wireless real-time in-process monitoring and analytics
These use cases will be sector agnostic and will be deployed across a range of industries enabling new business models and opportunities, streamlining operations and creating additional revenue streams. This is especially important as the nation navigates economic turbulence brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic.
How and why was 5G-ENCODE founded?
Across the UK, businesses from almost every sector are looking to digital transformation as a way to enhance productivity and efficiency. A core part of digital transformation is the application of new networking technologies to revolutionise existing processes. In manufacturing, the use of 5G to automate and streamline processes will dramatically increase output and drive efficiencies. The 5G-ENCODE project is the next step in our journey to digital transformation, and will test the real-life use cases for 5G technology.
Moreover, use of new, more energy efficient communications technologies like 5G, are expected to have a substantial environmental impact at both national and global levels. Indeed, research by O2, a 5G-ENCODE partner, found that 5G will facilitate greater flexibility, lower costs and shorter lead times for factory floor production that together could take up to 40 Megatonnes of carbon out of the economy by 2035.
It is only through projects like 5G-ENCODE that are committed to building and testing these realistic yet challenging use cases that we will establish clear, compelling value propositions for 5G in industry.
I’ll pass you onto Marc Funnel Head of Digital, National Composites Centre to talk more about how we’ve evolved and what we have planned for the future…
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How has the need for 5G-ENCODE evolved during the pandemic?
[Marc Funnel] Covid-19 has enabled us to initiate a smarter way of working that ensures we can operate virtually, streamlining the way we work. It has significantly highlighted the need for 5G use cases, especially those around virtualisation and the ability to use immersive technologies such as AR/VR and 360-degree training scenarios. It has expanded the collaborative reach for our internal and external contractors, improving remote access solutions and potential engagement on the test bed. It has resulted in interest from schools and universities, who want to learn about the immersive classroom use case that we are promoting as part of 5G-ENCODE and the Digital Engineering Technology & Innovation (DETI) programme.
What can we hope to see from 5G-ENCODE in the future?
[Marc Funnel] 5G-ENCODE achieved successful implementation of the first phase of the programme, a 4G network, which will set the baseline for the 5G network. We’re engaging with small cell 5G vendors and smart cell technology providers to implement the 5G demonstrator testbed. In parallel with this, we’re inviting technical providers and industry partners interested in using the test bed to explore this with us through UK government funding that is available. This will expand the range of use cases in phase 2 (June 2021- April 2022) of the project which will show the benefits that 5G can offer over 4G, and further explore expanding these use cases to enhance the innovation scope of the programme. We’re engaged with a local research initiative in the West of England, investigating further a haptic interface with robotics solution.
What are the benefits to 5G over 4G and Wi-Fi, particularly within the manufacturing industry?
[Vassilis Seferidis] 5G has the potential to be truly transformational within the manufacturing industry. Machine to machine connectivity, ultra-low latency and unique network slicing capabilities will transform traditional manufacturing processes, making them more efficient and productive.
Unlike 4G and Wi-Fi, 5G is designed from the ground up to be completely secure end-to-end. Not only this, but 5G is highly scalable in a way that other technologies are not. Its wireless nature means that mission-critical availability can be deployed rapidly across a given environment, with minimal waste and maximum performance.
One of the most innovative benefits of private 5G networks is their slicing and splicing ability which can hugely improve business efficiency. A key focus of the trials at 5G-ENCODE will demonstrate the efficacy of ‘network slicing and splicing’ in industrial settings. These technologies deliver a customised network that meets business demands. They allow operators to either create multiple virtual networks that can be customised and optimised for the specific service and traffic levels needed (network slicing) or combine two or more sub-networks to create a new ‘aggregated network topology’ (network splicing).
Of course, these technologies can be used not only in industrial private 5G networks but also can be deployed across a vast range of industries, from healthcare and manufacturing to transport and entertainment.