5G promises great growth for the fourth industrial revolution. An industrial robot cleans a plastic automobile bumper in a Volkswagen car factory. (Photo by RONNY HARTMANN / AFP)

An industrial robot cleans a plastic automobile bumper in a Volkswagen car factory. (Photo by RONNY HARTMANN / AFP)

5G will set fire to the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The time is now for industries to get on 5G, the next-generation networking technology that’s stoking the innovation flames of the new fourth industrial revolution.

Since World Economic Forum founder Klaus Schwab released his seminal piece “The Fourth Industrial Revolution” in 2016, industries and economies around the world have sat up to acknowledge, recognize and embrace the phenomenon. 

After all, the world has progressed to what it is today – astounding technological advancements, fired by the disruptive potential that is uncovered in industrial revolutions. 

The Fourth Industrial Revolution

The speed with which technology is evolving has heavily impacted the way individuals and organizations work, live, and play. The pervasiveness and permanence of its digital footprints are affecting us all now and the same for practically all sectors, developing roadmaps as part of the fourth industrial revolution (AKA Industry 4.0).

Dangling technological carrots in the form of automation, artificial intelligence (AI), quantum computing, internet-of-things (IoT), and more, the fourth industrial revolution beckons with the tantalizing prospects of improved efficiencies, workforce optimization, and of course, greater profits. And underlying all of that is the recognition that 5G is an important disruptive technology that will drive digital innovation in industries.

5G and the fourth industrial revolution: What’s the link?

IN 2019, Eckard Eberle, CEO of process automation at Siemens, said:

“Industrial 5G is the gateway to an all-encompassing, wireless network for production, maintenance, and logistics. High data rates, ultra-reliable transmission, and extremely low latencies will allow significant increases in efficiency and flexibility in industrial added value.” 

Those efficiencies are exactly what 5G promises, not just to industries, but also to individual consumers, and virtually every economic sector one could possibly envision. 

In 2019, the Capgemini Research Institute surveyed global industries on their perception of 5G in industries. They found that 75% of global industrial organizations saw 5G as a key enabler of digital transformation and that 65% planned to implement 5G by 2021. 

Today, their follow-up research and survey found that globally, 5G and complementary edge computing services are seeping into industrial operations. Whilst most of these efforts are still at the ideation and planning stages, 30% of global industrial organizations are already at or beyond the pilot stage – demonstrating that the high interest shown in 2019 has translated into on-the-ground efforts today. 

Industrial early adopters optimistic about 5G

A paradigm shift is happening now, as 40% of industrial organizations surveyed are expecting to roll out 5G at scale at a single site by 2023. Globally, 87% of industrial organizations are at or beyond the planning and/or proof-of-concept stage of 5G adoption. 

Early adopters of 5G in industrial settings are singing praises about their transition. 60% have affirmed that 5G has helped their businesses realize higher operational efficiencies, and 43% have experienced increased flexibility.

When it comes to leveraging 5G, 51% say they will use it to offer new products, whereas 60% say they will offer new services enabled by 5G. In terms of preference for 5G providers, over a third prefer to deploy private 5G networks, mostly from the semiconductor and high-tech sectors, as well as the aerospace and defense sectors.

The survey also highlighted how cognizant industrial organizations are of the environmental impact of their 5G adoption. 53% say they will prioritize the reduction of their environmental impact, whereas 67% will factor in the sustainability credentials of 5G-related service providers before engaging their services.

The Fourth Industrial Revolution and 5G adoption in APAC

Whilst the United States has led in the adoption of 5G in industries (34%), the APAC region comes in at a close second, with 32% at or beyond the piloting stage. Of particular interest is how South Korea leads the world in 5G trials and implementations, with 43% of industrial organizations there already at that stage. Aside from the growth opportunities afforded by 5G adoption, Capgemini recognized the role that governments played in accelerating it. 

In APAC, the South Korean government launched an initiative called “5G+ Strategy” to create a 5G ecosystem and provide tax incentives worth $27 billion by 2022 to promote the development of 5G-based industries and services. 

Singapore’s Infocomm Media Development Authority (IMDA) and the National Research Foundation (NRF) have set aside S$40 million to build an open innovation ecosystem to support 5G trials on industry use cases. 

Meanwhile, Australia has launched the “Australian 5G Innovation Initiative” to provide grants to help businesses test 5G use cases in sectors such as mining, manufacturing, and construction.

Giving Industrial 5G an edge

Edge computing, while a fairly recent concept, has already been adopted by 72% of the world’s IT leaders in their businesses. 

This technological innovation has not gone unnoticed by the industrial sector, which sees edge computing as essential to realizing the full potential of 5G. In fact, 64% plan to adopt 5G-based edge computing services within three years.

Driving these decisions is the assurance that edge computing complements 5G deployments by increasing performance, reliability, data security, and privacy.

Key takeaways for everyone

These encouraging numbers in APAC and around the world clearly show that the time is now for all public and private players to harness the potential of 5G. 

Telcos, in particular, need to rapidly pilot and deploy essential 5G infrastructure and services to capture the industrial market. It requires a shift in mindset from being merely connectivity providers, to providers of vertical-specific solutions.

For industrial organizations, it is vital to determine an optimum network model, identify proper collaboration opportunities, and identify the most impactful use cases relevant to their needs before deploying 5G. More importantly, movements from early adopters should prompt industrial organizations that have yet to deploy 5G in their industry 4.0 efforts, to quickly do so.