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4G vs. 5G: What’s the Difference and how can Factories Benefit?

Machine Manufacturer, Systems Integrator, 5G Smart Factory, Factory owner

4G vs. 5G: What’s the Difference and how can Factories Benefit?

18 Mar, 2021

This article will discuss:

  • How 4G compares to 5G in terms of their industrial application
  • How 5G intends to revolutionize connectivity within the factory floor and support Industrie 4.0 business models
  • The benefits of 5G to the industrial sector

The release of the 5G communication network was an eagerly-anticipated event within the industrial community for a few reasons. 5G is to be the first mainstream wireless network built for the industrial sector, unlike its predecessors which focused heavily on cellular networking. To understand the importance of a wireless network being dedicated to the industrial sector, a comparison of what was available through the previous iteration (4G) to 5G is the right place to start.

 

Understanding the important differences

To achieve the industrial automation Industrie 4.0 promises, near-real-time inter-exchange of data is required. The exchange of data could either be machine-to-machine or machine-to-cloud data transfers but what ensures a successful transfer is a network that guarantees low-latency and high-bandwidth transfers.

Other considerations when comparing network options are the factory environment and its location. The industrial environment is one that can be defined as having reinforced walls and electromagnetic waves as by-products of the industrial process. Reinforced walls and remotely-located facilities are among the hindering factors when attempting to utilize a wireless network in industrial settings.

4G networks are centralized and rely on large masts or stations to provide the wireless communications that define them. The centralized nature of 4G means the farther away a facility is from a network infrastructure, the more unreliable the data transfer process is. 4G also struggled with delivering low-latency and high-bandwidth data transfers across large distances and through reinforced walls. Many facilities continued to rely on wired networks as they provided more stability compared to 4G wireless networks.

The premise for developing 5G networks was to eliminate all the bottlenecks associated with applying 4G within the factory floor. Starting with centralization, unlike 4G, 5G does not rely on a centralized mast or station. Instead, these networks are provided by decentralized 5G boxes or cell sites which can be installed in remote locations and therefore closer to industrial facilities. These cell sites are smaller and use considerably less power than the average 4G station, which makes them easier to set up.

The use of compact cell sites and a more decentralized infrastructure provides 5G with a wider, less-costly means of providing connectivity to facilities in remote areas. The closeness of cell sites to industrial zones and remote areas also means more reliable access to wireless networks which is required to support Industrie 4.0 business models.

 

Comparing 4G to 5G

For industrial applications of wireless networks, the criteria to consider when comparing the wireless network options from two different generations include:

Peak speeds

This criterion refers to both the data upload and download speeds of both network options and their ability to support real-time data transfers.

4G LTE networks generally offer peak speeds of approximately 100–300 mbps depending on how close an asset is to a network station. Although this speed is fast enough to support industrial processes, proximity and industrial environments affect its reliability. 5G networks offer speeds of approximately 10–30 Gbps, which is approximately 10 to 20 times faster than the average 4G network.

The exponential increase in download and upload speed 5G offers to ensure connectivity reliability beats that which 4G and wired connections have to offer.

 

Latency

Interconnectivity is dependent on how quickly and reliably data is transferred from one endpoint or industrial asset to another and vice versa. Ideally, a reliable network must guarantee low latency.

5G is currently the definition of a low-latency network that ensures data travels at near real-time speeds, thus supporting industrial applications requiring real-time communications. Compared to the latency 4G offers, 5G networks offer a latency rate that is 4 to 5 times faster, enabling the transfer of large packets of data. The exceptionally low latency that 5G provides is ideal for achieving Industrie 4.0 business models that rely on big data transfers.

 

Connectivity

This criterion focuses on the number of assets or devices a network can support before experiencing any lags or considerable reduction in its speed and latency levels.

The application of industrial IoT, edge computing, smart devices, and HMIs within industrial facilities require expansive networks that support thousands of devices. 4G networks are capable of supporting approximately a hundred thousand devices per square kilometer, although when at full capacity latency issues occur. 5G networks expand the connectivity that wireless offers to a million devices per square kilometer.

So 5G offers connectivity access of up to 10 times more devices than 4G can support. The expansive connectivity 5G offers to support the billions of connected devices expected to be in operation as more enterprises embrace Industrie 4.0.

 

Energy efficiency

Industrial operations depend on large amounts of power to function optimally. Energy consumption bills are a significant part of the total production cost of the average facility. A more energy-efficient network reduces the total overhead cost.

5G networks use 90% less energy per bit of data transferred compared to 4G networks. The reduction in energy use is quite large which makes it one of the major reasons why many industrial facilities intend to take advantage of 5G networks. Reduced energy expenses will lead to a reduction in production cost which can be transferred to consumers of industrial products.

 

Data volume or bandwidth

This refers to the amount of data a network can support when transferring data in real-time. The industrial process produces big data sets that must be reliably transferred to deliver full automation.

Dedicated industrial areas shied away from using 4G for extensive networking requirements due to the slow rate of data transfer. Imagine an area with hundreds of industrial facilities and thousands of assets relying on a centralized wireless network. The data transfer rate is bound to be affected by the volume of devices requiring its services. 5G networks were developed to handle a thousand times the bandwidth that 4G supports.

 

Conclusion

5G is the new generation of wireless networks available for public use. This 5th iteration offers a more stable, reliable, and scalable pathway for industrial facilities to achieve their Industrie 4.0 goals compared to 4G. The low latency and high bandwidth that 5G guarantees are expected to be the driving force for implementing concepts that rely on interconnectivity and the inter-exchange of big data.