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What does 5G mean for design engineers?

03 July 2020

It’s important to understand exactly what 5G is. First, it’s not an upgrade from 4G. It will usher in a new era in turbo-charged connectivity, and we’ll feel the impact in our daily lives. 5G isn’t just for smart phones, which will have greater capacity and perform much better. 5G is bigger than that as this article from Essentra Components explores

It’s important to understand exactly what 5G is. First, it’s not an upgrade from 4G. It will usher in a new era in turbo-charged connectivity, and we’ll feel the impact in our daily lives. 5G isn’t just for smart phones, which will have greater capacity and perform much better. 5G is bigger than that

The technology behind 5G will enable faster data transfer speeds than 4G. According to Science Daily, we’re talking about speeds 100 times faster than what we’re accustomed to with 4G. It will welcome in a new era of innovation and device communication protocols that impact how network applications work together. It will connect an untold number of devices to each other. Imagine remote robotic surgery. Autonomous cars becoming the norm. These are just a few examples that 5G will make possible.

Industry 4.0 has yet to reach its full potential. To connect devices and machines, manufacturers typically use wifi, ethernet and, as we’re seeing more of, 4G LTE. “LTE” stands for “long term evolution.” This isn’t really a technology, nor does it meet the technical criteria of 4G. It’s a standard for wireless broadband communication for mobile devices and data terminals.

5G addresses many of manufacturing’s connection problems:

  1. Handling the ever-expanding number of connected devices and data traffic
  2. Lowering energy consumption
  3. Improving connectivity performance.

5G will allow manufacturers to operate their entire factory, on and off site, with one network, and adopt new technologies quicker than they could before. Production will become even more flexible, efficient and safer. Robots will come with built-in SIM cards, making them wireless. Manufacturers won’t have to establish a new network for robots, which will eliminate barriers to implementation.

5G will allow manufacturers to operate their entire factory, on and off site, with one network

Expect widespread adoption of augmented reality too. 5G networks provide higher bandwidth and low latency – and by low latency, we mean less than one millisecond, which is virtually unnoticeable. This will provide a sustained augmented reality image. We’ll see more augmented reality used in training, troubleshooting, maintenance and repairs. In turn, this will translate to higher productivity. Predictive maintenance will also improve thanks to 5G’s low latency, increasing the probability of spotting potential breakdowns before they occur.

The World Economic Forum, in collaboration with McKinsey, found that most manufacturers around the world are still not relying on Industry 4.0 in a 2018 survey. In fact, only 29% of their respondents have actively deployed these technologies at scale. Forbes reports that small manufacturers are struggling to adopt Industry 4.0.

Making Industry 4.0 more accessible

5G will change that, making Industry 4.0 technologies more accessible to manufacturers. Business models will need to be reconsidered in the face of new realities made possible by 5G. Manufacturers will have the capability to produce customised products at incredible speed, while products that we haven’t even dreamed of yet will come to market.

So, how will 5G affect design engineers? That depends on what they’re designing, of course, but some will have to create 5G-compatible products. This is an entirely new world for everyone. However, there are specialty companies already designing software that provides virtual test beds and reference architecture that will enable engineers with no experience or background in 5G to add these capabilities to their products.

One problem for U.S. design engineers is that 5G standards are not finalised. Their UK counterparts have an easier job ahead of them, with standards now in place to work from. But there are standard drafts, incorporated into software, and rather than wait for ratification, engineers can still get started now, so that manufacturers are ready when 5G does roll out.

While manufacturing will be a big beneficiary of 5G’s advantages, it’s the telecoms sector making it possible, and the unsung heroes, the industry’s own design engineers.

In order to increase the data rate and capacity of broadband networks, 5G will use higher frequencies. Different baseband algorithms and radio architectures will be needed. 5G radio technology is highly integrated. Designing it requires radio frequency (RF), antenna, digital signal processing (DSP), hardware, control logic and software, along with standards, or in the U.S.’s case, draft standards.

All of this means that any design engineers still working in silos must rethink their processes and workflows for 5G. Baseband, RF front end and antenna design will have to be considered as a whole, not as single items. Approaching your application with an eye on the big picture will avoid problems further into the project.

 
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