Where 5G and Manufacturing Environments Intersect

Ryan Spurr

With the accelerated use of consumer and corporate mobile devices and the rapid growth of connected sensors, next-generation workforce end points, and industrial products, manufacturers need to reconsider how they leverage modern cellular-based solutions to empower a new range of use cases that improve everyday communication and operations.

The approach can include delivering a better experience for employees and guests, ensuring cellular service signals are accessible in all indoor environments, and building out an alternative network based upon unlicensed spectrums in the form of private cellular to connect an evolving range of devices both indoors and outdoors.

Let’s look at some of the technologies and how they’re being applied inside the manufacturing sector.

Cellular Solutions to Consider for Your Manufacturing Facility

Cellular DAS: Whether driven by new local building regulations to provide robust emergency response communication indoors or to provide strong cellular coverage to all indoor spaces, distributed antenna systems (DAS) can solve both compliance and experience. It’s important to highlight that some parts of the country mandate this technology inside new or retrofitted buildings based on technologies that failed in a prior crisis like 9/11 and other tragic rescue situations where first responders’ communication technologies failed to operate indoors.

This technology leverages outdoor antennas that connect to a carrier tower for service, bi-directional amplifiers, and indoor antennas located across all floors or work spaces to ensure outstanding cellular coverage in all plant areas. This technology will ensure that all your cellular devices have the coverage you expect outside of any compliance requirements and deliver a great end-user experience.

Cellular to Wi-Fi Handoffs: One of the most common frustrations we hear from clients is inadequate cellular coverage inside manufacturing facilities. As employees navigate deeper into the industrial areas of the plant, most end users experience challenges with consistent and reliable cellular service. Another issue is the transition from outdoors into the building; end users may experience call quality degradation, or their call may drop altogether.

Manufacturers can now leverage their existing IT infrastructure, including access points, to deliver a great experience that allows employees to transition direct carrier services to corporate network infrastructure via a seamless handoff that eliminates call drops, avoids poor call quality, and ensures that everyone can continue their calls uninterrupted.

The approach is similar to DAS but leverages existing IT infrastructure instead of an entirely different platform. With a few additional investments, this approach is quickly becoming a standard option in many top network brand portfolios, and it’s something your organization might be able to adopt rapidly.

Private Cellular: Carriers aren’t the only ones who can deploy cellular services. Now private businesses can deploy their own private cellular solutions to leverage the benefits of cellular over a private network your organization controls, owns, and secures. Expect this trend to evolve as we have seen for other standards in the industry, such as the adoption of Wi-Fi, BLE, and ZigBee, among other standards—each with respective benefits and use cases. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) opens up 5G options that leverage previously unavailable spectrum and makes the remaining unlicensed spectrum available for general use by businesses.

Private LTE or cellular options will be an essential component of the smart manufacturing journey as manufacturers look to integrate new types of endpoint technologies inside and outside of their facilities. And like any organization where intellectual property and proprietary processes exist, many manufacturers might want to look toward private cellular options as an alternative to public offerings.

Cellular Backhaul: Slightly out of this blog’s scope but familiar in nature, check out our previous blog about creating more resilient solutions with a wide range of cellular connectivity solutions. Unlike the above use cases, which either extend or make private cellular, cellular backhaul connects remote facilities, critical equipment and machines, and acts as a backup alternative to traditional connectivity like broadband or fiber carrier solutions. 

It’s Time to Invest in Cellular

With many new cellular offerings available, manufacturers are reimagining their use of cellular-based technologies, mobile experience, and how these capabilities integrate with their evolving smart manufacturing initiatives to grow and improve business.

If your business is exploring cellular-based solutions to improve experience or operations, engage Connection’s Manufacturing Practice to learn more about this technology, available services, and the many use cases that may benefit your organization.

Ryan Spurr is the Director of Manufacturing Strategy at Connection with 20+ years of experience in manufacturing, information technology, and portfolio leadership. He leads the Connection Manufacturing Practice, go-to-market strategy, client engagement, and advisory services focusing on operational technology (OT) and information technology that make manufacturers more digitally excellent.