Australia’s next industrial transformation could hinge on the quick deployment of private 5G networks that enable the data hungry technologies of Industry 4.0, according to Verizon, which manages the networks internationally.
Private 5G networks are already in production in the US, UK, Europe and Asia, allowing thousands of devices and advanced technologies to transform places like hospitals, stadiums, manufacturing plants and ports.
The high-speed, low latency network connects thousands of cameras, sensors and IoT devices with each other and edge computing to enable cutting edge applications like predictive maintenance, robotics and computer vision.
“It is the single biggest technology enabler for industry transformation in Australia over the next decade,” Verizon Asia-Pacific regional vice-president Rob Le Busque said.
“It will sit side by side with AI as the defining technology set by how we transform industry across sectors in Australia.”
Private 5G is the use of private, dedicated spectrum by a single owner, like an enterprise. It is not shared across macro networks like consumer 5G. Owners can customise functions, speeds and security, with more consistent connectivity and throughput while requiring relatively less power and physical infrastructure.
The early business adopters have often been the ones operating large facilities in remote environments, like mines, ports and industrial manufacturing.
Verizon last month launched its London Hub for customers and partners to see the use cases – most already in production – up close.
In one demo, computer vision detects slight product defects on a manufacturing line that would be imperceptible to a human eye, automatically diverting the compromised components out of the production line.
A simulated error shuts the machine down to demonstrate how a worker with little knowledge of the system could repair with remote support through an augmented reality headset.
Reset steps, including exactly which part of the machine to interact with are overlayed for the worker, who receives immediate feedback, fixing the simulated error within a minute.
While a controlled demo, it is not hard to imagine the technology being deployed in the advanced mines, shipyards and manufacturing plants the Albanese government is promising to set up with a $15 billion National Reconstruction Fund.
Verizon insists that taking full advantage will require the timely deployment of private 5G networks to enterprises to securely connect the technologies.
In the US, Verizon owns and can licence spectrum, but in Australia it will only provide the private 5G networks and services. It means either the enterprise customer must buy the spectrum itself or partner with an operator, with Verizon then providing a private 5G network with a partner like Nokia.
According to Mr Le Busque, it’s a potential transformative change for industries not typically seen as early adopters of technology, like shipping logistics, and other large industry operation environments.
“For the first time in a long time, they can see technology as a true value creator, rather than just an enabler for their for their business. And that’s a really significant change,” he told InnovationAus.com.
While other markets are well advanced many Australian organisations’ first question is where to start and what does global best practice look like, according to Mr Le Busque.
“When you walk into one of our innovation centres in the US, there are some 30 or 40 partners that operate in those centres alongside us to co-innovate and co-create solutions… It is a nascent but very rapidly growing market.
“And once we get the dimensions of the market right in Australia, things like the National Reconstruction Fund and other opportunities for inflow of capital to fund the innovation agenda in this country will stimulate significant growth. We’re sure of it.”
The Australian Communications and Media Authority is currently planning for wireless broadband services in the 3.4-4.0 GHz band to cater for a variety of use cases and users, including networks like private 5G.
An allocation of licences suitable for the private networks will initially be for remote areas, while an auction for metro and regional areas is slated for October.
Licencing terms and deployment speed are changing after amendments in 2020 by the Coalition government to provide ACMA with more direction and greater flexibility in decision-making for allocating licences.
The regulator must now have regard to Ministerial Policy Statements, with the latest from former Communications minister Paul Fletcher emphasising the need to deploy spectrum in a way that supports the regions, new use cases and technologies – specifically 5G — and “efficient spectrum access arrangements” with an “appropriate balance between wide-area and customised local services”.
“We need to get those settings right,” Mr Le Busque said.
“And it’s crucial that we get them right quickly, so that we can remain competitive in the Indo Pacific.”
The author travelled to Verizon’s London Hub as a guest of the company.
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