Radio Technology: Faster and Safer with 5G

For smartphone users, the advantages of 5G are still negligible. But industry, logistics, medicine, and many other sectors are already benefiting from the new radio technology.

5G. Foto: Shutterstock - metamorworks

In industry, 5G is regarded as an important basis for the networking of factories. Photo: Shutterstock – metamorworks

On the consumer market, the availability of terminal devices is regarded as a major driving force for the expansion of 5G mobile communications technology. However, 5G currently brings few benefits for private individuals. Apart from the fact that Telekom, Vodafone, and Telefónica have so far only made the first 5G network islands available in a few large cities, users of the first 5G smartphones can only expect slightly faster data rates and slightly higher response times from the new standard. 5G visions of the future, such as virtual reality gaming or live coverage of several parallel matches during a stadium visit, are still in the future.

5G as the backbone of networked factories

The situation is different in the industrial environment, however. Here, 5G is considered an important basis for factory networking. Fast wireless technology shall replace traditional wiring between machines and control units. This offers companies more flexibility to reconfigure production plants at short notice. If necessary, machines and robots can be moved quickly to a new location within the factory building. “The networking of factory facilities to the Internet of Things, or IoT for short, offers the opportunity to react faster to changing demand or to produce customized one-offs,” says Martin Beltrop, Executive Director of Enterprise Solutions at Nokia Networks, with conviction. The sporting goods manufacturer Adidas, for example, already offers its customers the option of producing sneakers and jerseys with individually selected material and color combinations. A similar approach is also conceivable in other industries, such as construction.

Complete overview at all times for forwarding agencies and in trade

Another promising area of application for 5G is the logistics sector. “5G tracking not only allows us to determine the current location of pallets or smaller package units, but also their condition – important, for example, for frozen foods or when shipping sensitive high-tech components,” says Dr. Christian Grotemeier, Managing Director at the German Logistics Association (BVL), outlining possible applications. However, it will probably be years before 5G is available on a truly broad scale in Germany. Until then, companies will use the new technology in so-called campus networks – locally focused on company premises.

Not just shipping agents but also wholesalers and retailers, for example, benefit from these logistics innovations such as tracking. The automated overview of stock levels saves them a lot of manual inventory work.

More benefits for patients via networked medicine

5G is already starting its victory march in the medical field. For example, network operator Vodafone and the University Hospital Düsseldorf (UKD) have announced their intention to jointly establish the “first 5G medical campus in Europe”. With funding from the state government of North Rhine-Westphalia, operating robots shall be networked via 5G as early as 2022, surgeons shall be able to better orient themselves in complex operating scenarios with mixed-reality video displays, or patients’ vital functions shall be checked using high-tech monitoring patches.“ In the future, instead of monitoring patients’ bodily functions with cables at the bedside, we’ll be able to track patients’ vital functions much more easily with these monitoring patches,” says Prof. Frank Schneider, Medical Director and Chairman of the Board of UKD, enthusiastically.

Opportunities and limitations of 5G in road traffic

There are also high hopes for 5G in the transport sector. Networked autonomous driving is often mentioned as an important future field of application for 5G. In such conversations, people are also quick to mention “Vision Zero” – at some point, extensive networking in road traffic shall lead to no more accidents. But practitioners such as Thomas Jäger, Head of DEKRA’s Product Testing Division and thus responsible for test and research projects on 5G solutions, among other things, dampen such expectations to some extent: “Autonomous vehicles must also be able to drive without mobile phone contact. The first application areas for 5G on the market are likely to be used in order to exchange warning or service information between vehicles – as well as for connectivity between vehicles and traffic infrastructure, the so-called V2X. The abbreviation stands for Vehicle to X, where X stands for other vehicles, traffic lights, or even cloud services. A fundamental distinction must be made between security-relevant and comfort-oriented data traffic. The security-relevant area in particular must be able to manage without network contact, so it makes sense to rely on direct communication between two vehicles.

The automotive industry favors other standards, such as the special WiFi variant “11p”. “Above all, 5G is ideally suited for comfort applications, such as the faster provision of navigation data and traffic information, or for server-based speech recognition,” adds Volker Noeske, Head of Technology Center at DEKRA Automobile GmbH. However, he also sees overlap between the two areas, such as more precise recognition of vehicle position, which is required for future assistance functions such as support when driving onto freeways or overtaking on country roads. With such functions, 5G could then also make drivers’ lives a lot safer.

Test and certification of V2X in European DEKRA test centers

In Málaga, DEKRA operates its own research and development facility to test vehicles, products, and systems with V2X functions, as well as with 5G, 4G, WiFi 11p, Bluetooth, and other radio technologies. DEKRA offers these tests to technology developers, module and terminal equipment manufacturers, vehicle suppliers for communications equipment, and car manufacturers.

On the 540-hectare DEKRA test site for automated and networked driving on the Lausitzring (between Dresden and Cottbus), on the other hand, the focus lies on functionality of the overall vehicle. Here, for example, tests are run to determine whether driving maneuvers based on V2X communication, such as cooperative driving onto the highway, work as a whole. Of course, technologies such as 5G or WiFi 11p are also used to carry out complex test scenarios.

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