The First Network Slice Trial for Intelligent Manufacturing: How does the value of 5G reflect?

Recently, together with Zhejiang Branch of China Telecom and Zhejiang Bluetron, ZTE announced the successful commission of the first “5G Slicing + MEC + Intelligent Manufacturing” project in China, which will undoubtedly serve as a good example for the application of 5G in the manufacturing industry.

It seems that it is one of the areas that 5G has been exploring in the vertical industry this year. ZTE believes that this is the first project to apply 5G E2E network slicing technology to intelligent manufacturing scenarios in China, which has a unique significance for building 5G smart factories in various industries. To the telecom operators, it is also an important exploration targeting to the enterprise market.

5G implementation is the key issue

5G is not only the “popular star” in public, but also attracts the interests of users in various industries with its outstanding features of eMBB, URLLC and mMTC. How to introduce 5G to drive the business change and innovation, and make 5G a reality, are the common topics among telecommunication industry and vertical industries.

Therefore, the successful execution of this project is critical. The high-definition video streams for industrial production systems (such as Red Lion Cement feed inlet) is taken by BlueTron with its industrial cameras, and then transmitted to the industrial vision analysis system in real time via 5G network. The industrial vision analysis system, which is deployed on the MEC servers, conducts AI-based intelligent video analysis of the video streams. The abnormal in the production system, such as feed inlet congestion, can be automatically identified and alerted.

Network slicing is crucial in this project to ensure the large upstream bandwidth and high security isolation required by industrial vision scenarios. Vision analysis system is deployed on the MEC servers to provide nearby processing and ensure the low latency and high security. ZTE, Zhejiang Branch of China Telecom and BlueTron collaborated closely to provide a dedicated eMBB network slice and the MEC edge cloud platform for manufacturing enterprises. BlueTron’s cloud intelligent vision analysis system is loaded on the platform. In this project, not only the automatic monitoring and management of the production process are realized, but also the production data security is ensured since “data stays inside the factory” throughout the whole process.

The network supports multiple video streams uploading from various terminals at a speed of 20Mbps each and a delay around 20ms, which meet the current needs of industrial visual inspection in the feed inlet of Red Lion cement production line. This requirement for upstream rate is not very high and can be guaranteed preferentially through RAN resources scheduling supported by network slicing technology. With the further improvement of video resolution and bit rate of machine vision, as well as the increasing of monitoring point of industrial cameras in the future, the demand for 5G upstream bandwidth will be further increased. Independent frequency bands can be allocated in that stage and also the frame structure with higher up-ratio can be used to improve the utilization efficiency of RAN resources.

The video surveillance for production lines in traditional factories adopt wired connection solution, and a large number of cables are used, resulting in a complex internal structure of the factory, which cannot meet the needs of flexible production for future digital society. The adoption of 5G slicing solution makes it possible for wireless technology to replace wired, so that to easily build the flexible workshops and wireless factories, and promote intelligent manufacturing finally. That’s the meaning of this project.

Smart factories need 5G to do more

Currently, the project is mainly used for industrial vision detection, which is a common scenario in the intelligent manufacturing industry. In essence, it is the achievement of intelligent detection in industrial production environment through 5G network, by which the human visual is extended, empowered by the AI-based vision analysis system.

The current service flow of industrial vision inspection is still an open ring. In the future, it will be combined with the control flow to form a completely closed-loop automatic control system. 5G network will support seamless combination of eMBB service in upstream and URLLC service in downstream. Therefore, 5G low latency technology will play an important role in the future.

It is known that 5G eMBB network slicing technology is relatively mature and ready for commercial use. But the multi-dimensional charging of slices and business models need to be further explored in practice. The 5G URLLC slicing technology is expected to be commercially available by the year of 2021 after the accomplishment of relative standards in 2020.

Smart factories need 5G to do more. 5G technology will accelerate the transformation of intelligent manufacturing. “Internet of Things” of the workshops will be achieved by networking of the production equipment; production decisions are made based on the big data analysis with the production data visualization; the efficient and green manufacturing can be achieved when the production documents are paperless; the intelligent factory “neural” system can be created by the transparency in production process; and with the unmanned production site, the unmanned factory will be actually realized.

The 5G+ industrial internet can be applied in all the processes of the production, management and supply chains to help manufacturing enterprises in their transformation upgrading, reduce the cost, improve the enterprise informatization and competitiveness, evolving towards wireless, automated, intelligent, and flexible manufacturing.

For example, the 5G-based machine vision inspection, by the industrial cameras and edge computing gateway deployed in the production line, the video can be automatically processed, recognized and labeled, avoiding human error and mis-checking. All the units support on-demand, fast and flexibly wireless networking. This will greatly improve the qualification rate of the products. The scope of detectable applications in the equipment manufacturing industry will be expanded by more than 30% and the detection accuracy will be increased by 200%.

Digital transformation is just in time

On June 6, 2019, China’s MIIT (Ministry of Industry and Information Technology) issued 5G licenses to four major Chinese telecom operators, which means that the 5G era is officially open in China. Unlike previous generations of wireless technology, 5G will not only focus on upgrading in the public market, but also enter the vertical industries and build infrastructures for the digital transformation of the verticals. Miao Wei, the Minister of MIIT recently spoke at a press conference of the State Administration that, 80% of the 5G application scenarios will be on the industrial internet in the future.

The China Information and Communications Research Institute previously released the report “5G Industrial Economy Contribution”, which predicted that the information consumption driven by 5G commercialization in China from 2020 to 2025, directly driving the total economic output to CNY10.6 trillion ($1.5 trillion), and indirectly pull of the total economic output to about CNY24.8 trillion ($3.5 trillion). 5G will directly create more than 3 million jobs in China.

The digital transformation of the industry is the trend. We are currently on the eve of large-scale digital upgrading of the industry. The digital technology innovation will improve productivity and work environments by automation and intelligence of the production process. 5G networks are indispensable during such intelligent changes in manufacturing and digital transformation in vertical industries.

Industry scenario differentiation is very large. New demand, new business, new models are continually emerging. Compared to the B2C market, B2B market has the basic characteristics of fragmentation and high barriers. Expanding to the B2B market is a new topic for operators. Operators need to work closely with leading enterprises and solution providers in various industries in order to understand the needs of the industrial scenarios and transform them into network slice templates and form the B2B business models which are replicable, promotable, and profitable. ZTE believes that 5G will expand the market share for operators in the tide of digital transformation, and achieve sustainable growth of the telecommunications industry.

Germany follows the UK on coverage collaboration

Deutsche Telekom will be joining forces with the German bits of Telefónica and Vodafone so they don’t duplicate each other’s efforts in remote locations.

The move seems identical to the initiative announced by UK MNOs a few weeks ago, which resulted in Ofcom removing coverage obligations from the next tranche of low-frequency spectrum to be made available. Presumably the German regulator has indicated it would be in their best interests for the German MNOs to follow suit, although in this case it’s more about satisfying existing coverage oblgations.

Right now, however, this is just a statement of intent rather than a hard pact. “The three telecommunications providers plan to coordinate the set-up and operation of up to 6,000 new cell sites and have signed a letter of intent to this effect,” says the announcement. “1&1 Drillisch AG has been invited to participate in this network expansion collaboration. A prerequisite for joining the collaboration is that the operator must be willing to take on an equal share of the expansion projects as the other parties.”

This seems a bit harsh on Drillisch as it’s currently an MNVO using the Telefónica and Vodafone networks and has far fewer subscribers than any of the MNOs. “The plan proposes that each company participating in the collaboration should set up an equal number of new sites which can then be used by the collaboration partners and fitted with their own antennas and the appropriate network technology as required,” added the announcement.

“The planned collaboration is a milestone for network expansion in Germany,” said Telekom Deutschland’s Managing Director Dirk Wössner. “Our common goal is to eliminate coverage gaps in the mobile network as soon as possible. Sharing infrastructure is nothing new for us. Sharing it at this scale, however, is a major step in the right direction. After all, high-speed internet and excellent voice quality on road, rail and water are vital for an industrial country like Germany that relies on mobile communications.”

“Mobile communications will be the most important technology in the coming decade. And we are pooling our resources to put Germany in an ideal position,” said Markus Haas, CEO of Telefónica Deutschland. “This collaboration is an outstanding example of intelligent cooperation towards taking the next logical step. We must join forces if we are to consolidate Germany’s position as a leading business location that is ready to take on future challenges. Together, we will take digital transformation in Germany to the next level.”

“Today, we are forging an alliance to combat dead spots and increase mobile communications coverage even in areas where it is not profitable,” said Vodafone Deutschland CEO Hannes Ametsreiter. “In future, hundreds of thousands will benefit from this – people in small rural communities, people on roads, people traveling by train. Together, we operators will construct and share a common infrastructure in dead spots – and of course continue to be rivals in a competitive infrastructure market in the rest of the country. This is good for the network, good for customers and good for Germany’s digital future.”

This looks like a good solution for the MNOs so long as they can agree on an equal share of the work. Drillisch announced it wanted to get into the MNO business buy winning some 5G spectrum in the most recent auction, leading to considerable sulking from the incumbents about the cost of it all. It looks like they’re going to make the newcomer pay to get into their little coverage club.

Ericsson, Swisscom and Qualcomm do 5G dynamic spectrum sharing

Dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) is all about the smooth transition from 4G to 5G and is an important part of rolling out a 5G network.

The incremental 5G progress news has dried up to such an extent this year that telecoms journalists have sometimes been forced to go and find things out, which is a massive hassle. So we’re grateful to Ericsson, Swisscom and Qualcomm for taking one more step towards proper, viable 5G with this thing that they just did.

Specifically the three companies say they collaborated to make the first over-the-air, DSS 5G data call in 31 October in Switzerland. It’s not clear why it took them over a week to announce it, however. Maybe they weren’t sure if it had worked. They had managed a 5G call using spectrum sharing in September, but that was just boring old vanilla spectrum sharing. Now it’s dynamic.

“Ericsson Spectrum Sharing (ESS) allows Swisscom to best leverage the existing frequency spectrum and infrastructure for 4G and 5G customers, depending on their needs,“ said Patrick Weibel, head of 5G program, Swisscom. “Spectrum sharing will ensure that Swisscom can provide extensive 5G coverage to its customers as soon as possible.”

says, “With Ericsson Spectrum Sharing, service providers can reuse their Ericsson Radio System investments on bands currently used for LTE to support a fast introduction of 5G,“ Hannes Ekström, head of product line 5G RAN, Ericsson. “This first ESS 5G data call by Swisscom, on commercial platforms, is an important step to enabling cost efficient, nationwide 5G coverage and services.”

“Coverage is the next killer app for 5G, and we congratulate Ericsson and Swisscom on this significant milestone,“ said Dino Flore, vice president, technology, Qualcomm Europe. “Spectrum Sharing will be a key catalyst for nationwide 5G coverage, helping deliver ubiquitous 5G services to consumers.”

The thinking behind dynamic spectrum sharing is that there’s no point is reserving a bunch of 5G spectrum if there’s hardly any demand for it. So initially a site using DSS tech will be beaming out mostly 4G waves, but as people switch to 5G it can move the dial in that direction.

SpaceX successfully launches 60 improved Starlink satellites

SpaceX has successfully launched 60 improved Starlink satellites which pack a number of upgrades.

The main addition is increased spectrum capacity for end-users by making full use of the Ka- and Ku-bands. SpaceX's initial 60 satellites only supported Ku-band antennas.

Another change, aimed at quelling fears about space junk, is that more components of each satellite will burn up entirely in Earth's atmosphere at the end of their life.

With the original batch of satellites, SpaceX promised 95 percent of the satellites would burn up after they've finished their missions. The new components should help to further reduce any debris.

In a press kit, SpaceX wrote:

“Since the most recent launch of Starlink satellites in May, SpaceX has increased spectrum capacity for the end-user through upgrades in design that maximise the use of both Ka- and Ku-bands.

Additionally, components of each satellite are 100% demisable and will quickly burn up in Earth’s atmosphere at the end of their life cycle — a measure that exceeds all current safety standards.”

SpaceX is once again using ion thrusters for the satellites in order to perform in-orbit manoeuvres.

Astronomers have complained that SpaceX's satellites are reflecting more sunlight than expected and may affect scientific observations. Some have been said to shine as bright as stars.

In June, the Royal Astronomical Society said the vast number of satellites proposed by the likes of SpaceX, Amazon, OneWeb, and others “presents a challenge to ground-based astronomy.”

“The deployed networks could make it much harder to obtain images of the sky without the streaks associated with satellites, and thus compromise astronomical research,” the society said in a statement.

SpaceX has partnered with the National Radio Astronomy Observatory and leading astronomy groups around the world to learn how changes can be made to reduce the impact of Starlink satellites.

Engineers at SpaceX are working to make the bases of future Starlink satellites black to help mitigate the reflection issue when observed from Earth. However, the change hasn't been implemented for this latest Starlink batch.

That means, if you have clear skies, you may still see the satellites pass overhead in a train-like formation just like the last launch.

Each satellite weighs around 260kg (573lbs) and will combine to create SpaceX's heaviest payload. They'll be stacked in the Falcon 9’s upper compartment, nearly filling the rocket’s usable payload volume.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

BT launches Halo plans to provide converged 5G and fixed broadband

BT has merged its “Halo” and “No Limits” mobile plans, which aims to combine the power of 5G mobile and fixed line home broadband (FTTC, FTTP, G.fast) networks. This will help the telecom provider’s subscribers enjoy the benefits offered by the convergence.

The existing 5G customers with BT Plus plans will be automatically upgraded to reap from Halo.

BT Plus is a premium package that adds the operator’s Complete Wi-Fi Guarantee, which is a dedicated UK and Ireland-based customer support and “Keep Connected Promise” – a service wherein a customer receives a mini 4G Hub with unlimited data when their broadband line goes down.

The Complete Wi-Fi Guarantee will soon become a standard for all categories.

Recently, BT, Belfast Harbour and mixed reality allies, Ubimax and VRtuoso, rolled out an initiative to demonstrate the tangible benefits of 5G alongside augmented reality (AR) technologies. Together, the partners demonstrated two applications that the major maritime hub is presently exploring as part of its Smart Port vision.

In the first demonstration, a member of Belfast Harbour’s operations team was shown wearing an AR headset connected to a 5G device, inspecting a crane and receiving step-by-step maintenance guidance and remote support via an application server in the cloud. And the second demonstration showed a 5G immersive experience, showing how the technology can allow geographically dispersed participants to draw VR content down from the cloud.

Interested in hearing industry leaders discuss subjects like this? Attend the co-located IoT Tech Expo, Blockchain Expo, AI & Big Data Expo, and Cyber Security & Cloud Expo World Series with upcoming events in Silicon Valley, London, and Amsterdam.

Vodafone extends broadband reach with new Openreach agreement

Vodafone has broadened its fibre footprint to Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool after signing a new wholesale agreement with Openreach.

The Vodafone business might be primarily known as a mobile business to most, though it has been making strides into the broadband world after signing an agreement with CityFibre last year. What this wholesale agreement with Openreach looks like is an effort by Vodafone to expand its fibre footprint in areas where its primary partner, CityFibre, does not have a presence.

With this wholesale agreement in place, Vodafone will soon be able to offer fibre broadband services in 15 locations throughout the UK.

“Vodafone is committed to a full fibre future and to creating the infrastructure Britain needs to compete and win in the digital era,” said Vodafone UK CEO Nick Jeffery.

“This initiative with Openreach builds on our existing commitments with CityFibre and underlines our belief in the power of digital technology to connect people for a better future and unlock economic growth for the UK.”

As part of the agreement, Vodafone’s Gigafast Broadband service will be available to customers in Birmingham, Bristol and Liverpool on the Fibre-to-the-Premises (FTTP) network from 2021. The first phase of the Openreach rollout is currently underway and the team plans to be able to reach as many as 500,000 customers on this network by mid-2021.

For Vodafone, this is a wholesale agreement which makes sense. The partnership with CityFibre looks to be one where the terms and conditions are very favourable to both parties, however Vodafone will want to be a service provider which can offer broadband to everyone. The CityFibre deployment strategy means secondary partners will have to be sought.

As part of the CityFibre agreement, Vodafone has made a minimum volume-based commitment for 10 years which increases over the period to 20% of the initial one million premises. In return, Vodafone has a period of exclusivity for consumer fibre-to-the-home services from CityFibre for 12 months, though the time-period is nuanced depending on location and the phase of network construction.

The CityFibre deployment strategy is also a point to consider here. CityFibre is targeting small and medium sized cities, as well as larger towns. These are areas which are generally not being targeted by the likes of Openreach or Virgin Media for fibre deployment. The idea is to create a scaled challenger, and targeting areas where rivals aren’t is a perfectly reasonable strategy.

In short, Vodafone will use CityFibre infrastructure as default, and Openreach in locations where it is not available.

For Vodafone, this partnership demonstrates something which many will see as a plus; ambition. The team is seemingly attempting to expand the fibre service offering to more regions across the country, which should add greater confidence in its pursuit of making a meaningful impact on the segment.

UK security chiefs reportedly warn PM against banning Huawei

The UK is much less likely to hit ambitious broadband targets if Huawei isn’t involved in the 5G network, Johnson has apparently been told.

The report comes courtesy of the Mail, which reckons the National Security Council has been warned that Prime Minister Johnson can forget hitting his 2025 fast broadband targets if the UK’s 5G network isn’t up to scratch. This would apparently be made inevitable if we didn’t let Huawei participate, the NSC has apparently conveyed to the PM.

When BoJo first announced his ambition broadband targets they seemed to be focused entirely on fibre, but it looks like he has been subsequently advised that there’s this thing called fixed wireless access that is really handy for connecting remote locations. His patient telecoms advisors will presumably have then pointed out that the kind of FWA needed to help him hit his targets would require a decent 5G network, hence the Huawei angle.

This leak to the Mail, presumably from somewhere in the government, seems designed to serve two purposes. The minor purpose is to rebrand BoJo’s pledge as being focused on outcomes rather than technology types. But the main reason for it is probably to provide cover for the decision not to block Huawei from the 5G network, which seems to have been made already but won’t be announced until after the general election.

US President Trump is a Johnson supporter, but that relationship will be strained if BoJo decides not to tow the US line on Huawei. Maybe BoJo is hoping to use his own broadband pledge as mitigation during the inevitable awkward conversation he will have with Trump after announcing he’s not blocking Huawei from the UK 5G network.

Back to basics for Huawei as China remains the bedrock of success

Pretty much everyone in the technology world knows Huawei is under pressure, though with its dominance of the Chinese market, it has more than enough to weather the storm.

According to new estimates from IDC, Huawei has now officially become number one in the market share rankings for tablets in China. These estimates follow smartphone shipment figures which demonstrate extraordinary dominance from the under-fire firm.

Over third quarter of 2019, Huawei shipped 2.12 million tablets, up 24.4% from a year ago, to take 37.4% of the total market. It has leap-frogged Apple to lead the market, the iLeader currently controls 33.8% of shipments, while the rest of the field are no-where near the leading two. Xiaomi currently sits in third position, with market share of 5.9%, a decrease of 47.4% year-on-year.

Although increased tablet sales in China are not going to compensate for the troubles which Huawei are facing in the international markets, alongside the smartphone dominance during the same period, it demonstrates the comfortable position Huawei is currently in.

Talking of smartphone shipments, as you can see from IDC’s figures below, the strong market share position is duplicated.

2019 Q1 2019 Q2 2019 Q3
Shipments (Million units) 29.7 36.3 41.5
Market share 35.5% 37% 42%
Year-on-year growth 40% 27% 64.6%

And even with heavy criticism from the White House, Huawei is maintaining its position as the leading network infrastructure vendor worldwide. In the third quarter, Dell’Oro estimate Huawei owned 28%, though some might suggest this is due to its dominance of the Chinese market. The firm has been missing out on valuable contracts in some European markets though it doesn’t seem to be having a disastrous impact.

Noise from the White House might be starting to have an impact on the Chinese vendors influence on certain Western markets, but let’s not forget how Huawei created such a dominant position in the first place.

Some might suggest the dominance of Chinese companies on the Chinese market is only due to an uneven playing field, Western challengers might be handicapped when it comes to competition, but this is largely irrelevant. This is not a situation which is likely to change in the future, regardless to the number of complaints, therefore it should be accepted.

This dynamic afforded Huawei the confidence to aggressively expand in bygone years, and it will continue to be a comforting thought as uncomfortable aggression floats both directions out of the US.

With continued dominance in the Chinese smartphone, tablet and network infrastructure segments today, Huawei has firmed up its bank accounts. The spreadsheets will not be under anywhere near as much threat as they potentially could have been, as the management team can rely on revenues continue to flow through the domestic market. This is the same position Huawei was in prior to its international expansion.

Huawei is not necessarily a Chinese company anymore. Yes, it was founded in China and the country continues to house its headquarters, but this an international beast with considerable influence around the world. The management team will not be happy its international revenues are being eroded, though the Chinese domestic market can prop this giant up; it is that big.

Irrelevant to the amount of noise coming out of the White House, and regardless of the success it has in convincing its allies to ditch Huawei as a vendor, it will always have the Chinese domestic market to lean on. And as long as it is still one of the country’s leading companies, it will always have the opportunity to expand aggressively internationally. It just has to wait for the anti-China rhetoric to die down, like it did in the early 2010s.

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