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5G - the next level for industrial applications

In the future, production facilities and intralogistics must become more flexible, autonomous and efficient. The right communication technology is the key to this. 5G is intended to take Industrie 4.0 to the next level and open up new perspectives for industrial applications.

In addition to traditional industrial applications for wireless connectivity such as mobile working, remote access and dynamic sensor technology, 5G opens the door to new types of industrial applications. "Slicing", for example, combined with advanced security, can host multiple network layers (ERP, MES, DCS) on the same physical network. The massive increase in bandwidth and number of connected devices enables the expansion of IoT on the shop floor, but also the shift of complex computations from a central computer to distributed edge computing.

It is still early days for 5G technology, with Release Rel.17 currently being specified for uRLLC. Release Rel. 16 can primarily transmit more data, which makes it interesting for video transmissions, for example. The next release is particularly important with regard to data transmission in real time for industrial transmissions.

However, not all conceivable industrial applications can be served with it either, which means that device development is stalling and 5G applications are still associated with high costs. But the industry is acting quickly - devices and technology could be ready in a very short time. PI is therefore already dealing with the topic and is accompanying the first pilot applications.


In contrast to the well-known public networks, private 5G networks have some advantages for industrial applications. Private 5G networks allow industrial sites to control and manage their own networks. They offer high reliability, low latency and, most importantly, the ability to adapt the network to changing requirements. At the same time, the data remains on-site - this provides additional security.

Another advantage is that there is a common infrastructure for many uses per location. At the same time, bandwidth is high, set-up is simple and operating costs (OPEX) can also be reduced. The ease of expansion increases the scope for companies.

The Federal Network Agency has already reserved a total bandwidth of 100 MHz from 3.7 GHz to 3.8 GHz for use on local industrial sites.

Usage of PI technologies today - the easy way to 5G in future

Undeniably, 5G has the potential to take wireless communication to a broader level. Similar to the ongoing trend towards Time-Sensitive Networking (TSN) for established (wired) Industrial Ethernet solutions, 5G is likely to become the standard wireless technology of choice.

The question is how PI technologies can fit into this theme and best exploit the benefits. Parameters such as response time, availability as well as functional safety are currently under closer scrutiny. The latter in particular is considered a mandatory prerequisite for the use of 5G in manufacturing automation, and there specifically for the control of autonomous vehicles.

The focus is on:

  • Communication of industrial protocols on Layer 2 (ISO/OSI model).
  • Very short cycle times and high-precision synchronisation
  • Stability compared to other radio frequencies in the direct environment
  • Transport of many small Ethernet frames
  • Transmission of safety protocols according to IEC 61784-3
  • Compliance with IEC 61508 as the basic standard for functional safety

Even in safety-critical applications, 5G has great potential. Since PROFIsafe uses the black channel principle, no special configuration is required to enable functionally safe communication between PROFIsafe devices and controllers via 5G.

The most important indicator for the performance of the 'PROFIsafe/PROFINET over 5G' system is the data exchange time(DX). In addition, the safety monitoring time (watchdog time) of PROFIsafe must also be taken into account. The data exchange time should be significantly less than the watchdog time. This is the time at which the application goes into the safe state.

Although not all devices and components are currently available for 5G, it is worthwhile to deal with the topic now. Those who rely on wireless applications with PI technologies today will find it easier to enter the 5G topic later. The background is that the PROFINET application remains the same, only the mobile connection becomes faster and more secure. The project planning of 5G networks is also similar to TSN technology, so there is already a lot of experience here. And as always, the PI community will also show practicable solutions here, so that the entry into this new technology is easy.

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Currently running projects on 5G


Audi has been working on the topic of 5G since 2015. In addition to traditional industrial applications for wireless connectivity such as mobile working, remote assistance and dynamic sensor technology, they are also investigating new industrial applications. For this purpose, Audi built a 5G network in its battery technical center in 2020. The results of this prototype production were very positive. Only two aspects should be highlighted: Wi-Fi, for example, has a problem in manufacturing cells due to the Faraday cage. But the metal did not cause any difficulty for 5G. And normally up to 50 GB of data per vehicle are transferred into the car during the production flow. Especially with this data transfer, 5G saves an extremely large amount of time. In early 2020, a collaboration between Audi and Ericsson achieved cycle times of 3 ms with a latency of 1 ms when PROFINET and PROFIsafe run over 5G. Such time scales are important prerequisites for factory automation and enable applications such as Automated Guided Vehicles(AGVs) or Automated Mobile Robots(AMRs).

Practical test at the Aachen campus

The "5G-Industry Campus Europe" in Aachen is Europe's largest 5G research network and spans a total of four factory halls and one square kilometer of open space. The factory halls of the Machine Tool Laboratory WZL and the Research Institute for Rationalisation FIR at RWTH Aachen University as well as the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT are comparable to industrial production environments with their machine equipment and processes. In one project, typical manufacturing use cases were investigated with regard to functional safety when using 5G. The aim was to clarify which advantages 5G has for the German manufacturing industry compared to previously used wireless technologies such as WLAN or Bluetooth.



5G is not subject to any coexistence measures, which makes the latency predictable and deterministic. This makes applications with very short cycle times and high reliability possible. PROFIsafe via PROFINET has proven itself as the communication technology here.



Siemens test center

Qualcomm Technologies, Inc. and Siemens have established a joint proof-of-concept project at the Siemens Automotive Test Center in Nuremberg, Germany, demonstrating the first private 5G standalone (SA) network in a real-world industrial environment using the 3.7-3.8 GHz band. Qualcomm Technologies is providing the 5G test network and 5G industrial test equipment. Siemens provided the actual industrial setup, including control systems and IO devices, and supplied industrial terminals such as automated guided vehicles (AGVs).

This is about testing 5G solutions in a realistic industrial environment, but also about questions of how the migration of existing IWLAN succeeds, or what mixed operation might look like. At the same time, currently available industrial protocols such as PROFINET and OPC UA will be evaluated together with wireless communication via 5G. The network uses both the PROFINET and OPC UA protocols; in the first case for controller-to-device communication, in the second case for controller-to-controller communication. First test results of Industrial 5G in industrial applications are very promising.

5GANG project

The aim of the 5GANG project "5G applied in industry" is to research and develop an industrial communication concept based on fifth generation mobile networks. Among other things, the project will compare different radio technologies (WLAN, Bluetooth, 5G) for the uRLLCband in terms of jitter, latency and susceptibility to interference. In the unlicensed WLAN bands, the application of coexistence measures is mandatory, but this generates high jitter and a PROFINET update time of up to 1 second. In contrast, 5G shows very low jitter in the licensed bands and thus has advantages over WLAN. Thus, with 5G in the eMBB band, PROFINET update times of approx. 20ms milliseconds and low jitter of 10ms are possible.


These are just a few examples. Many new test fields are currently being created, such as at the Hannover Messe exhibition center, but also in companies, e.g. Siemens-Amberg, BASF in Ludwigshafen and Covestro in Antwerp.

Here you can find several frequently asked questions:

eMMB - enhanced mobile Broadband - Release 15

For applications with high data requirements, 5G eMMB is suitable. This offers extremely high data rates (of up to several Gb/s) and provides enhanced coverage far beyond that of 4G. This includes applications that require very high bandwidths and data rates. Applications include high-definition video streaming or augmented reality.

URLLC - Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency Communications - Release 16/17

URLLC can enable highly critical applications with very high end-to-end (E2E) latency (down to the millisecond range), reliability and availability requirements. This is interesting for those applications that require high determinism, such as industrial automation, robotics, autonomous driving, medicine, etc. This will be an issue especially in campus networks where 5G is applied to industrial networks such as PROFINET.

mMTC - massive Mobile Machine Type Communications - Release 17/18

mMTC is designed to provide blanket coverage and deep indoor penetration for hundreds of thousands of IoT devices per square kilometre. In addition, mMTC is designed to provide ubiquitous connectivity with low software and hardware requirements for devices and to support battery-saving low-energy operation. This includes use cases that require a large number of devices that are typically in close proximity to each other. Applications include the Internet of Things (IoT) or smart cities.

This concept was introduced to enable different services to run simultaneously, yet in isolation, through the same network infrastructure.

Specialists are needed for the configuration and management of 5G base stations for own campus networks. In addition, development is still somewhat slowed down at the moment, as important releases (Rel.17 uRLLC) for this have not yet been completed. Naturally, industrial end devices are also still expensive. As a result, investment or running costs are relatively high at the moment.

No, since not all releases have been released yet, now is a good time to get involved with the topic and develop a good 5G concept that is successful and future-proof. Unlike WLAN, 5G is service-oriented, i.e. load tests with network slicing with many AGV (uRLLC), AI applications (eMBB) and sensor networks (mMTC) should start now in order to define the possible worst-case latencies.