Digital Twins – meshing 5G, IoT and data to create blended worlds
Bridging the physical and virtual worlds using 5G-enabled sensors will lead to powerful connections to deliver smart cities and smart industry solutions.
Digital models are not a new concept; NASA used the digital twin concept in the 1960s space programme to create replicas of spaceships that carefully mirrored each decision during missions. These digital models have become more sophisticated since then. Improved telecommunications and digitisation technologies have led to increased control and the ability to reflect the real world and associated scenarios more quickly.
“The change has come from the speed of results,” says Tony Harb, Head of Solution Architects at Verizon Business Group. “In the past, digital twins were static solutions where the model was built, then data was applied, followed by analysis to generate results. The process was largely manual and slow. The advent of 5G, Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) and ubiquitous IoT sensors will see a step change in interoperability by applying near real-time spatial data sets on digital twins.”
The goal is to create interactive digital twins that turn real-time data into powerful decision-making tools.
Applications of digital twins – then and now
Digital twins have been used in the manufacturing industry for some time to assess the impact of changes on production lines. They are also used to “stress test” manufactured products for reliability and performance. 5G-enabled manufacturing digital twins will be able to aggregate design, manufacturing, production planning, maintenance, repair and operations (MRO) data to allow total process simulation of an actual production process and enable “on the fly” decision making.
Governments are looking at digital twins to assist them in taking a long-term view of cities. Interactive digital twins allow them to understand the impact of development decisions for years, or even decades, to come. They are also helping to make better decisions on maintenance and where to make investments in infrastructure. For local councils, they allow the near-real-time analysis of event management and more accurate forecasting by modelling traffic congestion and population service needs. 5G-enabled digital twins can collect near real-time feeds from devices, sensors, citizens and infrastructure to provide this information instantly and more accurately than before.
Digital twins can be applied to other industries. For example, retailers can now apply sensors to all aspects of their value chain. This would allow retailers to monitor people and footfall in stores and individual product lines, where people are walking, and what they are purchasing. Accrued data would enable near real-time decisions on whether they need to offer sales or increase the stock of certain line items.
The building and construction industry uses digital twins to support its safety-first objective and overcome issues stemming from changes or delays due to supply chain issues. Smart construction companies are using digital twins coupled with multiple on-site sensors and drones to assess how things are progressing and what the impact of changes might be.
For first responders, digital twins provide situational awareness when they turn up to an incident. Digital twins can give near real-time feeds from sensors that allow responders to know what is happening with wind and environment during natural disasters or issues with civil unrest in law enforcement situations.
How 5G enables a more connected world
When we think about digital twins connecting multiple people, devices, sensors and data, the power of 5G is undeniable.
“When we started with 4G, at the time it enabled 10,000 devices per square kilometre. With 5G, we can connect a million devices per square kilometre,” says Harb.
5G will allow the models to interact with the real world and take the physical world in the digital world. It will enable the spatial interplay of digital models with their real-world location. We will start to see IoT sensor devices embedded into a holistic picture rather than referring to each model.
“Furthermore, 5G brings lower latency, close to 10 milliseconds, which brings near real-time decision making closer to reality. When you consider the number of people and devices in a densely populated area such as a city, and the connected devices in cars and infrastructure, 5G enablement will be critical,” says Harb.
Private versus public 5G
The perennial question is whether to wait for public 5G to become accessible or whether private 5G is the best solution. The reality is that depending upon the use, they may be complementary – you will need a combination for certain digital twins to work effectively.
However, private 5G will provide immediate results for enterprise and government applications where security and operational performance of networks are critical.
It’s not simply a matter that the current coverage for public 5G is very limited, and when it is rolled out it will largely be available in metro areas. There will also be security requirements for the applications of digital twins, so many uses will likely rely on private 5G solutions.
There is greater operational flexibility and control associated with having private 5G. Throughput and latency are easier to manage too.
However, communication between digital twins and the wider community will ultimately rely on public 5G networks.
A good example is Verizon’s work with National Ports in the UK, where the company is rolling out a private 5G solution to control the stevedore, supply chain and logistics while in port. However, when they move from the private 5G location in port, the ships, trucks, containers, etc., will still leverage public 5G networks for essential connectivity and data needs.
Similarly, in the US, Verizon works with first responders to deploy 5G mobile towers to set up a perimeter of a small private 5G environment, but they still rely on the public 5G network to communicate with the rest of the world about what is happening inside the first responder situation.
It’s no longer a question of waiting for public 5G rollout to start thinking about how 5G can be used in an organisation. Regardless of the industry or use, the time to harness the power of 5G, IoT and real-time data to make smart, fast, accurate and long-ranging predictions is here. The time is now.
If you are interested in digital twins, 5G-enabled innovation or IT-OT convergence, Verizon’s private 5G solutions can help transform your business operations.
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