The fourth industrial revolution is in the name of telecommunications. The network of machines and robots offers hitherto unimaginable use cases and new services. But 5G will not be enough.
Horizon 6G the new column edited by Roberto Verdoneprofessor at the University of Bologna, full professor in OF Department of Electrical, Energy and Information Technology at the University of Bologna and Director of WiLabNational Research Laboratory for Wireless Communication led by Cnit, National Interuniversity Consortium for Telecommunications. Ideas and suggestions for the research path towards 6G, the next telecommunications standard that should boost interest and curiosity about STEM degrees. Click here to read all the articles.
The fourth industrial revolution is in the name of telecommunications. The network of machines and robots offers hitherto unimaginable use cases and new services. Everyone expects 5G to be the enabling technology for these new applications. That is true, but only in part. For half of the use cases, 5G will not be enough. We are building 6G to bridge the gap.
DER 5G-ACIA is the association that, in addition to the most important telecommunications players, brings together all the largest companies in the industrial automation sector in the world. In recent years he has produced several white paper which illustrates the characteristics required of a wireless network for industry, for the main applications of interest to these companies.
There are some that impose performance levels that are compatible with the features promised by 5G. For example, the use of augmented reality to allow a maintenance technician to intervene on a machine remotely using a remote-controlled robot, which is useful when the piece to be worked on is difficult to access for a man or dangerous. This use case, which has characteristics that are not unequal in terms of the performance required of remote surgery applications, requires latencies (network response times) of a few milliseconds and throughput (amount of data transmitted per second) greater than 100 Mbit / s, even in a complex environment like the industrial one. 5G, in its URLLC version (Ultra reliable communication with low latency), soon available, will definitely offer the right level of performance.
Use cases in addition to 5G
However, there are very interesting use cases whose specifications are not compatible with 5G, not even in the URLLC version. Among them motion control. It consists in the possibility of using sensors to collect all the moving components in an automatic machine (pulleys, pistons, etc.) useful data for controlling the machine itself. Today, these applications are offered with bus (cable) technologies, which offer very high reliability, high throughput and above all latencies of a few tenths of a second. This latest level of performance is not possible with 5G. On the other hand, the benefit of wireless solutions is obvious for the case with motion control: the ability to reach moving parts without the use of cables. Here, 6G must therefore be designed to guarantee the latencies, at a few tenths of a second, which are impossible for 5G.
New bands over 100 Ghz
How will 6G offer response times for its wireless connections in a few tenths of a second? There are two basic elements. The first: the network architecture must “close” near the industrial plant; there is a need for a strong integration between the 6G wireless network and the control system of the automatic machines, pushed to the point that they offer the machine control mechanisms of the radio base station located inside the plant. The second: wireless communication must take place at transmission speeds at least ten times higher than 5G; this can only be guaranteed with equally higher bandwidths and therefore with the use of new frequency bands above 100 GHz. The next WRC meeting is scheduled for the end of 2023 (World Radiocommunication Conference) by the ITU (International Telecommunications Union), which should identify the frequency bands to be used for these applications. In short, the whole world is moving towards 6G, while our operators are implementing the 5G network and coming up with new services for the first time.
The role of the WiLab
That WiLab, CNIT’s National Wireless Communications Laboratory *, has a three-year research program aimed at exploring the boundaries of 5G for industrial use and developing new technologies and architectural solutions for 6G. It does so in conjunction with a very solid collaboration with BI-REX, the MISE Competence Center based in Bologna and a consortium of many companies in the Italian industrial automation sector, and thanks to funding from TIM (for 5G) and Huawei (for 6G), two of the industrial partners in WiLab.
* CNIT (National Interuniversity Consortium for Telecommunications) is a non-profit organization recognized by MIUR, which conducts research, innovation and advanced training in the ICT sector.