By Kelly Hill
Rohde & Schwarz’s Teisnock factory sits among picturesque mountains in southeastern Germany, near the Czech border and about a two hours’ drive from Munich. One of two R&S factories in Germany, the company chose the Teisnock factory as the location of its first deployment of a private 5G wireless network, using spectrum which Germany has specifically set aside for industrial users.
Rohde & Schwarz had two motivations for setting up a private 5G network: To optimize its production processes with a stable, reliable and secure wireless network, and to validate its own network testing solutions, according to principal technology manager at R&S, Meik Kottkamp.
“It was a natural step for us to say, yes, let’s try this for our own purposes, and find out what we can do,” Kottkamp says, adding that that meant both in terms of its use in the factory and for adapting its own 5G test solutions based on firsthand network testing experience.
The 5G NonStandalone network relies on 5G in midband spectrum (Band 78, 3.7-3.8 GHz) and an LTE anchor in Band 40 (2.3 GHz) and was built using Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud private wireless and edge platform. It consists of two base stations covering about 1,500 square meters – what Kottkamp calls “a reasonable starting point for a deployment.” He describes the network as covering two parts of a hall that are connected with each other and notes that R&S owns the spectrum involved and can expand either indoors, outdoors or both in order to accommodate future plans. Both Rohde & Schwarz and Nokia used R&S test solutions to evaluate the network’s coverage and performance as the network was set up and went through site acceptance testing, according to the company: Specifically, the network was evaluated using R&S’ FPH handheld spectrum analyzer, its TSMx6 scanning receiver, 5G STS site testing solution and its QualiPoc Android smartphone-based network optimization set-up for walk-testing.
The network is in its very early stages for production-related use cases – but R&S has plenty of ideas on how to use it, Kottkamp says, potentially starting with very simple mobile information for workers within the factory. That doesn’t necessarily require 5G, he acknowledges, but it’s a way to try out localized communications over the air. Eventually, he adds, the company may look at connecting stationary robots or autonomous robot vehicles to take items from place to place on the production floor, relying on the smooth handovers and low latency of 5G to provide better performance than a Wi-Fi network would.
“One use case which I personally feel is interesting is, you can centralize the computation power,” Kottkamp says, giving an example of the ability to take images or high-quality video of production processes, transmit them over the 5G network and do advanced processing on them for quality control purposes. “Whenever you can do something centrally in terms of computational power, this is interesting,” he added.
While the operational aspects are limited at this point in deployment, Rohde and Schwarz has already been using the Teisnock network for firsthand, real-world insights into testing 5G private wireless coverage, capacity and configuration parameters in a factory environment, which it can then applying to its test offerings and to support customers who also want to deploy such networks. Kottkamp says that based on R&S’ testing, the network’s coverage is good and its performance is very stable. Industrial environments can be tricky for coverage, with lots of metal and reflective surfaces, but “in our case, we have managed quite well,” he says.
Kottkamp said that several testing issues come into play in private networks such as R&S’. One very fundamental issue is that smartphones – which are commonly used for network benchmarking in commercial mobile networks — may not be the best end-user device on which to base network testing. As a result, he says, Rohde has begun doing more testing work with modules as test UEs, because they can be integrated into multiple IoT devices. Another question mark is, who will perform the testing during the deployment process (The company itself? A system integrator? Will it be part of a service from a network equipment vendor?) as well as how ongoing monitoring will be conducted.
“We think it’s really important to do this kind of testing and to really have an independent understanding” of the network’s coverage, performance and latency, he says.
In addition to the initial characterization of the network itself and the spectrum environment, one of the areas that R&S seeks to learn from the factory environment has to do with ongoing monitoring and how to know when interference might be impacting the network, which in turn could disrupt factory operations. “We are also looking into, can we detect that early enough and have specific measurements created that allows us to react very quickly if it takes place, to ensure that the production line is not standing still for hours because no one knows if it is ongoing?” Kottkamp says. On that very subject, Rohde & Schwarz recently announced a research collaboration with Industrial Radio Lab Dresden, which focuses on research and testing of radio systems for industrial applications. IRL Dresden is using R&S network scanners for distributed real-time radio spectrum and interference monitoring, hoping to “gather important data on how to detect, locate and prevent interference and to keep a local spectrum band clear for reliable wireless connectivity.”
As one of the early private network adopters in Germany, and one which already has deep 5G expertise due to its test and measurement business, R&S is already having conversations with other German companies about its experience. Kottkamp added that within Germany’s thriving industrial sector, manufacturing players often engage with each other and the fact that Rohde & Schwarz isn’t, say, an automaker, takes the competitive angle out of such conversations about private networks.
One such collaboration will be highlighted at the upcoming virtual Hannover Messe event, with Kottkamp representing Rohde & Schwarz in a demo session about validating 5G in real-world factory environments, alongside speakers from Nokia, Bosch and HMS Industrial Networks and the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation, which focuses on global 5G development for industry and is based in Germany and of which Rohde & Schwarz is a member.