Do Manufacturers Really Need 5G, IoT?


September has been a manufacturing month. Earlier in the month, GSMA Intelligence hosted a webinar discussing whether manufacturers have the appetite for new services, with panellists from Reliance Jio, Verizon, AWS and Siemens, a good mix across the IoT ecosystem, with Mobile World Live holding a broader Themed Week on Smart Manufacturing and Industry 4.0. And, what did we learn? Not only during our webinar but also during the entirety of the manufacturing week? SYLWIA KECHICHE takes us through six takeaways.

Long lasting impact of COVID-19

It is hard to ignore what is currently happening around the globe and how the face of manufacturing will change forever, emphasising the need for digital transformation. But, chief of global mobility solutions at Reliance Jio, Azad Singh also stressed the importance of minimising human presence at manufacturing facilities. The consensus is the current crisis amplifies the need for flexible manufacturing (easily adapting to changes) and the need for different types of data to be collected and analysed. The ability to remotely monitor and access manufacturing plants has never been more important, not only to achieve business benefits but also to save lives. We’ve highlighted the impact of COVID-19 (coronavirus) on the manufacturing sector in a recent research piece.

Data is key

As I’ve written time and time again, IoT is all about data: it is key to digital transformation. Throughout the week’s sessions, the need and demand to collect data came through strong. Devices and assets are being connected (using multiple technologies) to collect data, and run the analytics in order to improve processes. Welcome to the virtuous cycle, where the more data is collected and analysed, the more benefits can be achieved. It is not surprising that the most deployed manufacturing IoT solutions are data driven to control for quality, enable automation and simplify management of supply chains, systems and machinery. Of course, we see the inherent value in data from the fact our Enterprise in Focus survey shows 50 per cent of manufacturing companies already use AI/ML. Why? Making sense of data is what helps enterprises to achieve business outcomes.

Partner for success

The role of partners coming together has been echoed throughout the recent news, but also the examples from the week, be it Supermicro and NodeWeaver showcasing how they address the intelligent edge, or Ericsson and PTC discussing their joint go-to-market proposition. The week’s overall sentiment was that working together enables futureproof investments and allows companies to learn from one another’s experiments. This was also a key take away from our panel discussion on how to best digitise manufacturing: each vendor might have bits and pieces of a solution, but solving a problem together is key, Khondoker Huq, global head of marketing strategy, IoT at SAS pointed out, and brings the value to customers TTTTech Industrial Automation director of product management IoT, Alexander Bergner noted. During our webinar, Douglas Bellin, business development executive, Industry 4.0 and Smart Factory for AWS, further exemplified that customers are asking for best practice and examples so they can accelerate deployment and succeed faster.

Start early

While commercial 5G use cases are still a way away, IIoT product manager at Verizon, Moiz Badri recommended to start now to understand how to use data. Providing real-life examples of how 5G IoT can benefit enterprise operations is key. Verizon and AWS illustrate this: they partnered to engineer and design a solution to enable edge computing on the Verizon 5G network, supporting mission-critical applications not previously possible, including autonomous industrial equipment and smart factories. There will be different modes of 5G deployments ranging from network slicing to dedicated private networks, but testing and finding the optimal way to deploy 5G should already be on the roadmap. As Chris White, Ford Motor Company 5GEM project lead explained, the car maker’s recent 5G private network partnership with Vodafone UK allowed for flexibility from a data perspective compared with a hardwired approach. Foxconn’s chief business officer Richard Vincent highlighted the wired/Wi-FI networks aren’t always the best at collecting real-time data from his experience. As existing LTE-based private networks will move to 5G, they do address the need for security and robustness and, what is becoming ever so important, collecting data in a flexible way from moving equipment.

Edge to the rescue?

Historically, manufacturers were resistant to moving their data into the cloud, thus cloud adoption in manufacturing is still relatively low. The COVID-19 pandemic, however, has highlighted the need for remote access and cloud enables just that. Enterprises are increasingly sending data to the cloud, training models there, but making decisions at the edge to empower agile operations. And it isn’t surprising recent months witnessed a slew of activity in the space, with cloud providers partnering with operators to capture the edge opportunity, for example:

  • AWS Wavelink partnership extends beyond Verizon and includes Vodafone, KDDI and SK Telecom
  • Microsoft Azure edge zones with operators including AT&T; Rogers; Vodafone; Telefonica; Proximus; SK Telecom; Telstra; NTT Communication; and Etisalat, just recently pulled into Operators for Azure umbrella
  • Google Mobile Edge Cloud, which includes AT&T, TIM, Telefonica and Orange

Mobile operators themselves are keen to explore this opportunity via The Telco Edge Cloud (TEC) platform formed in March 2020, which looks to become a digital one-stop shop. The go to market strategy isn’t fully formed yet: GSMA is seeking market input from companies who expect to benefit from edge cloud services, so if you would like more information please participate in this survey.

Think outcomes not technology

SVP of Boingo Wireless, Michael Zeto summed up much of our thinking when he said enterprises buy outcomes not technology. While discussing the factory of the future he also sees a mix of private networks, CBRS and edge enabling value delivery. Starting the conversation from the technology standpoint, however, isn’t what enterprises need. SVP consulting, Digital Enterprise and Services at Siemens, Jan Pawlewitz pointed to the fact enterprises are thinking of business case and value, therefore it is important for vendors to demonstrate their ability to do the heavy lifting and help to build the business case. To this end, head of IoT, Business Area Technologies and New Businesses at Ericsson, Kiva Allgood flagged the necessity to focus conversations from proof of concept to proof of value.

I couldn’t agree more.

As per our Enterprise in Focus Survey, custom-made products from one provider come out on top, since these make it easy for enterprises to deploy solutions which address their needs but also to realise cost saving as enterprises look to rationalise spend and consolidate their suppliers, favouring single end-to-end suppliers. Vendors recognise this: Steve Dertien, CTO and MD of the office of the CTO at PTC said they need “a trusted IoT partner”. This requires partnerships and cooperation between ecosystem players to enable just that.

  • Kechiche is principal analyst, IoT and Enterprise at GSMA Intelligence.
  • Editor’s Note: The editorial views expressed in this article are solely those of the author and will not necessarily reflect the views of the GSMA, its Members or Associate Members.

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