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Higher, faster, farther into an age of digitally networked added value

By Christian Maasem, Partner at Detecon International GmbH and Head of Hyperconnectivity

There is hardly any other topic currently concerning industrial companies as much as the digitalization of factories, added-value chains and the associated transformation to Industry 4.0. One buzzword that keeps coming up in this transformation process is “hyperconnectivity.” Starting from the idea of the Internet of Things (IoT), hyperconnectivity means, in short, the networkability of everything. It enables companies not only to use and control their data more effectively, but also to exploit it more comprehensively across the board. Real-time transparency of the shop floor is a means of deriving sustainable lessons from production processes. The acquired knowledge is subsequently made accessible and usable for all stakeholders in the company, leading to optimization of production standards in the long term. This acquisition of data contributes to increased efficiency throughout the company and makes a genuine contribution to the business’s value.

Hyperconnectivity benefits companies in all industries, offering increased flexibility, greater efficiency and heightened resilience to disruption for their own business and production processes. Yet without the latest generation of mobile communications, hyperconnectivity is virtually impossible or, at best, achievable solely with significant effort. If we think of hyperconnectivity as a car that transports its occupants comfortably from A to B, then 5G is the engine and data is the fuel. But what characterizes this drive technology?

All-Rounder: Why 5G Is So Special as the Foundation for Hyperconnectivity

Other wireless networks quickly reach their limits in terms of reliability and availability of the data connection; 5G, on the other hand, as the new all-rounder, breaks through the previous boundaries. 5G efficiently transmits larger amounts of data, is robust and posts lower latencies than its predecessors. Furthermore, it is possible to significantly increase the number of devices communicating simultaneously in a network, expanding the scope of networking. For instance, robots can be controlled, commands can be forwarded to tools on the shop floor, and processes can be evaluated in real time — simultaneously. In addition, the technology facilitates simple and robust scalability that covers a wide range of use cases without disrupting other operations.

Seamless Networking and Knowledge Sharing With 5G Ecosystems

5G does not operate solely as a communication technology; rather, it functions as an interconnected system, starting with IoT data acquisition on the shop floor and ending with their analysis in nearby (edge) or remote (cloud) computer networks. The 5G network serves as the backbone of the ecosystem that enables the interoperable collection, distribution and automation of information flows.

Industrial companies using 5G ecosystems can monitor and improve production processes holistically. The new technology offers major opportunities to companies; they can develop better products, introduce new business models and conserve substantial resources in their processes. From development and production to logistics and sales, the possible applications in almost every sector are myriad because the close meshing between man and machine secures ultra-fast and secure data transfer. Thanks to the resulting higher level of automation, companies can adapt production processes more quickly, which in turn leads to greater cost efficiency, i.e., a reduction in operating costs.

Finally, 5G ecosystems contribute to sustainability because the separate systems and applications can be more easily bundled and controlled as an ensemble. This opens up opportunities for a more effective use of energy.

The hyperconnectivity created by the ultra-high-speed network is relevant not only for the company’s own infrastructure, but also for the generation of new and manifold opportunities for cooperation in a network of diverse industry partners. In this respect, 5G lays the groundwork for our future information exchange and knowledge acquisition — both within a company and beyond its own corporate boundaries.

Will 5G Soon Be Mandatory?

So will companies be forced to establish 5G ecosystems in the future if they want to avoid being left behind in the transformation to Industry 4.0?

To be sure, having their own infrastructure is first and foremost a means of securing economic variation for companies because it is independent of third parties and facilitates scalability. At present, however, not every company needs to establish its own 5G ecosystem. For now, it is sufficient to use existing networks to test possible use cases while taking advantage of available access opportunities and establishing partnerships. Sooner or later, however, most companies — and this is especially true for industrial enterprises — will have no choice but to install and integrate their own 5G infrastructure.

Shaping the Future With Hyperconnectivity

Global industries are far from where they want and need to be when it comes to creating and establishing 5G ecosystems. Although various companies are planning to invest in industrial connectivity, they are unsure as to what technology or what combination promises the best solution now as well as in the future. Others, on the other hand, want to use bridging technologies to avoid being left behind in the transformation to Industry 4.0. Given the current uncertainty surrounding network deployment and investment, it is not surprising that many companies lack a detailed roadmap for 5G deployment or even a general connectivity strategy. Gazing into the crystal ball also reveals that, in the near future, there will be further implementation opportunities for various use cases that will also permit high-resolution localization of connected devices, just to give one example.

Nevertheless, the ability to connect and exchange information with other companies within the 5G network across national borders will also give rise to new challenges in the coming years. Global data exchange and the associated cooperation between international industrial companies require, most importantly, a renewed focus on data protection regulations for networked smart devices and platforms. If companies are to benefit fully from the advantages of hyperconnectivity, they must also actively promote an international data protection standard in the future.

One thing is certain in any case: 5G ecosystems and the hyperconnectivity they provide will sooner or later become the backbone of every company. So building their own 5G ecosystems early on and forming long-term partnerships with other enterprises in the 5G network will be a rewarding investment for companies. In this sense, there is also talk of a so-called “5G killer case,” because it marks the leap into a new era that will open the door to completely new data-driven business fields for companies.

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