Industrial companies are keenly looking forward to Ericsson’s launch of 5G services later this year, and have played their part in shaping the technology.
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The telecoms giant has worked closely with major companies in its Swedish homeland, including SKF, Boliden and Volvo Cars, and is targeting 5G services at manufacturers that want to implement Industry 4.0 programmes, as well as for general use on smartphones.
In developing the new network protocol, Ericsson has taken on board the ideas behind Industry 4.0, such as smart factories.
Compared with 3G, 4G and LTE, 5G is a faster and better technology for mobile communications. Ericsson’s roll-out of 5G is happening earlier than expected and it plans to start with clients outside Europe.
For example, Stockholm-based Ericsson took the opportunity to give 5G presentations during the Winter Olympics in South Korea. And with operations in most markets across the world, it has many more opportunities to talk to industrial companies about 5G.
Although Nordic companies will not be the first to use the technology, they are already preparing for it by working with Ericsson.
Mats Norin, programme manager, 5G for industries at Ericsson, told Computer Weekly that the firm has worked closely with many Swedish companies to find the best solutions for them and to create interesting use cases. For example, Ericsson engineers have been collaborating with roller bearings manufacturer SKF, mining company Boliden and Volvo Cars.
Industrial users of 5G will benefit from improved speed and a unified high-performing network, which will help them to use the internet of things (IoT) more extensively and improve robotics, for example.
Current technology such as Bluetooth, Wi-Fi and cables are not nearly as good to meet industries’ needs, and 5G’s lower latency and higher capacity will make a huge difference.
Ericsson, whose history as a telecoms provider dates back to 1876, has a huge market share worldwide for 5G’s network predecessors, LTE, 4G and 3G.
Mining company Boliden is one of Sweden’s future 5G users. Ericsson has conducted tests in one of Boliden’s mines and considers it an interesting case. More and more work in the mining industry is automated and new technology is taken up quickly because it improves security and productivity.
The automotive industry is another example. Jonas Rönnkvist, director of business development and strategy for Volvo’s consumer IT division, told Computer Weekly that Volvo cars have been connected to mobile networks since 2000 and, like other industrial companies, it has to keep up with the latest developments in mobile networks.
A mobile network technology usually lasts only eight or nine years before a new, improved generation comes in. But network providers are often in a hurry to launch new technologies to replace the old, and that can cause problems for users.
For instance, Norway has announced that it will close its 3G network soon, said Rönnkvist, nine years after 3G came onto the scene. But a new car needs technology that lasts as long as possible, he said, so it is a bit of a puzzle to get the right technology and functions into the right car at the right time.
Volvo may be happy that new, improved technology is on the way, but it does cause a lot of work. The company is currently heavily involved in developing self-driving cars in a joint venture with Autoliv called Zenuity. The entertainment systems for such cars are expected to play an important role when the occupant no longer has to focus on driving, raising the profile of mobile technology. But that is some years ahead, and Rönnkvist expects 6G and 7G to have followed 5G by then.
One thing that Volvo cars can already do with current mobile networks is to send and receive messages between cars. For instance, if one car discovers that a road is slippery, a warning is sent to other connected cars on the same road. Volvo also uses mobile networks to upload new software into its cars, and a third area is car-sharing with friends, with a mobile phone serving as the key. This technology was launched with Volvo’s XC40, recently named European Car of the Year for 2018.