5G: Opportunities and Challenges for Engineers (Ebook)

5G paper cover

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a delay in the crucial standardization work that would make 5G available for enterprise use cases. Things have since resumed but the commercial rollout of industrial 5G has been delayed, possibly until at least 2022. This short ebook gives an overview of the opportunities and challenges presented to engineers by this technology.

Editor’s Note

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced a delay in the crucial standardization work that would make 5G available for enterprise use cases. The relevant standardization body, 3GPP, has formally announced a deferral of this standardization until at least June 2020, which would delay commercial rollout of industrial 5G until at least 2022. Given that most industrial enterprises are looking to upgrade their communication technology in 2021, this delay will result in 5G missing out on at least 25% of the revenue opportunities within industrial enterprises, which given the importance of industrial use cases for overall 5G revenues, this translates into 5G losing up to 10% of total 5G revenues. In the long-run, this could result in a shortfall of several U.S. billion dollars in contribution to the global economy, states global tech market advisory firm, ABI Research.

“This is a blow to the standards bodies and the timeline of 5G,” says Leo Gergs, Principal Analyst at ABI Research. “The cancellation of leading industry events, such as Mobile World Congress in Barcelona, caused more complicated workflows for the 3GPP. As a result, the freeze of Release 16 (which is of key importance for 5G applications in industrial and logistics environments) has been delayed until June. This would, in turn, push the rollout of 5G into warehouses, shipping ports, and factory floors until at least 2022.”

Even though, in the short-term, this current pandemic is putting the timely enterprise rollout of 5G at risk (due to the delay in standardization framework), in the long-term, enterprise verticals will consider 5G for automating workflows in factories and other industrial environments in order to keep supply chain disruptions at a minimum. “However, we will also see 5G applications for life-critical verticals, such as agriculture/food production, to pick up pace, while a growing number of countries will consider enhancing their healthcare sector with 5G-enabled capabilities,” Gergs points out.

Building the Smart Factory with 5G
What Every Engineer Needs to Know

There are no shortage of stories in the media about all the incredible benefits the average person will experience once 5G rolls out. Benefits such as downloading full feature movies in seconds instead of minutes and making on-the-go multi-player gaming a reality. However, the more rewarding innovation, as for engineers, will be applications outside of the consumer market. 

Telemedicine is an obvious example that comes to mind. Today, specialists consult via video to clinics on the other side of the globe. 5G’s low latency will allow those specialists to not only talk a doctor through a complicated surgery over video but that specialist could safely perform the operation remotely via robotics. But for applications like this to have a real impact, 5G must be available everywhere, including remote locations. Unfortunately, that access is expected to take years. 

Where 5G will have the most significant impact almost immediately is in industrial applications–particularly discreet and process manufacturing.

1. 5G and Industry 4.0

Industry 4.0 has been a concept 20 years in the making and has been touted as the next industrial revolution that will change manufacturing forever. We are already seeing the adoption of robotics, sensors, and data analytics in Tier One manufacturers and small to midsized enterprises (SME).

What we haven’t realized yet is a truly Smart Factory. One that responds and adapts to what is occurring in real-time. A factory that has no barriers, but every part of the business networks together. A Smart Factory learns and then optimizes performance and improve efficiencies. 

The three pillars the Smart Factory is built on are the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), real-time decision making powered by data analytics, and implementing artificial intelligence (AI) disciplines such as machine learning.

According to Deloitte (and just about everyone else associated with manufacturing), smart factories will be a game-changer for the US manufacturing industry. IIoT, data analytics, and AI will bring about exponential growth in productivity, profitability, and competitiveness. Business leaders will have the information they need to make better decisions faster than ever before. 

Ideally, humans and machines will work together, each taking advantage of the other’s strengths and compensating for weaknesses. We are seeing more manufacturing plants deploying collaborative robots, commonly called cobots. These robots work in collaboration with humans (and other robots), and often that work is done in close proximity. To avoid accidents, the cobot must always be situationally aware of the human and be able to change course when needed. 

To do this and so much more, data needs to move faster than ever before. The information must be exchanged instantly, and 5G is changing the way we think about fast and instantly. Speeds of up to 10 Gbps, a 100x increase compared to 4G, latency will go from 20 milliseconds to 1 millisecond, and 5G will deliver up to 1,000x more capacity than 4G. Imagine what is possible with parameters like those.

It’s an exciting time to be an engineer because it is you who will create the devices that incorporate augmented reality, autonomous robots, and machine learning. Today, like never before, you are only limited by your imagination. 

Not only is it an exciting time, but it will be a very profitable time. ABI research shows us that in just over ten years, revenues from digital factories will total $375 billion. 

2. Is 5G Just for Big Global Manufacturers?

We will likely see the world’s Tier One manufacturers implement 5G and exploit its benefits first. They have the deep pockets required to adopt the newest technology available. It is these manufacturers that will prove or disprove various use cases and eventually will pave the way to adoption by small to mid-size enterprises (SMEs). 

Never discount those smaller manufacturers. According to the national association of manufacturing, 98.6 percent of all manufacturing companies in the United States are considered small businesses, and the majority of those have fewer than 20 employees.

Where large manufacturers may go all-in with new technology, SMEs will begin by dipping a toe into the water. They already are. One area that smaller to mid-sized manufacturers are keen to experiment with is Overall Equipment Effectiveness (OEE). It is an area they can see immediate ROI, as evidenced by a reduction in costly downtime and waste.

The problem is that right now these IIoT devices operate using Wi-Fi, and it is simply not reliable. There are too many devices running in the same frequency band, and the way factories are constructed results in poor signal quality. 5G has the potential to eliminate the problems businesses experience with wireless and expand the capabilities of a connected factory. 

All to say, you have a broad audience waiting and hoping for affordable, proven solutions. You need only to bring them to market. But being an innovator will not be an easy road.

“Over the last 20 years, many engineering programs have deemphasized things like microwaves and over the air propagation antennas. That’s becoming critical again. Engineers who are familiar with the hardware of RF will be in demand because 5G has made those skills and knowledge relevant again.”

Marcus Da Silva, Distinguished Engineer, National Instruments

3. Opportunities for Innovation

5G is so different from anything we’ve experienced before, and inherent challenges come with innovation. But problems are what every engineer lives for because they know that within a challenge lies the potential for new opportunities.

You built your whole career on your ability to solve problems successfully. You will need those skills as the benefits of 5G–it’s speed, and high frequencies–are at the heart of an engineer’s most significant challenges. We asked our friends at National Instruments to help us highlight a few of those challenges below.

Waveform Complexity

Engineers must work with high complexity when it comes to 5G waveforms. For your downlink, you have CP OFDM. For the uplink direction, you have the possibility of using the same CP-OFDM type of waveform or a DFT-S-OFDM. The DFT-S-OFDM waveform reduces the peak to average power ratio and can improve the efficiency of the power amplifiers. Ideally, you want to switch between both. You also have larger subcarrier spacing giving you additional flexibility in the standard, which increases the options for configuring these waveforms. 

While complexity is the challenge, the opportunity is more options and more waveforms with which to work. 

 Test Bench Challenges

Carriers will be deploying 5G in existing LTE channels, and operation below 10 GHz and frequencies above 10 GHz in the mmWave range—up to more than 52GHz. Your test equipment must be able to cover those ranges when validating 5G components. 

You also have to make sure you are testing for coexistence with wireless LAN, previous generations of cellular equipment, and how the standard will co-exist with satellite and radar applications.  

Not only that, but as these devices are specified to operate across multiple bands, you must configure your test benches to support the multi-band operation. You must be able to test for inbound coexistence, out of band emissions, and even device coexistence to see how the interactions of carrier aggregated signals affect the other band. You also need to test how the spectral performance within one band is taking place, then switch to the next band. 

Then there are the signal problems. Factories and industrial sites are not signal friendly. The answer to this problem is more antennas in the form of phased-array antennas. These antennas use the changes in the relative phase and amplitudes of a signal to create narrow beams and steer them (beam steering) in the direction you want them to go. 

Because you have shorter wavelengths with mmWave, you can pack antennas fairly tight. Tight enough that these arrays are now part of Integrated Circuits (IC). Herein lies the challenge.

Marcus Da Silva, Distinguished Engineer at National Instruments, explains that these integrated ICs have no connectors, and you cannot use a probe to test. You have to do Over the Air (OTA) testing, and today, that’s a challenge. 

“If I’m using a connector, I’ve got the signal contained in that cable. When I’m testing over the air, I have to measure the signal over space, and it may not be the same in all directions,” said Da Silva. 


Packaging is another issue due to the high frequency, according to Da Silva. The challenge here is the fact it’s a significant change for engineers, not that it’s impossible to do. You are not only going to have Antenna on Package (AIP), but because everything is attenuated, you will be working with full miniaturized circuits. 

But again, who doesn’t love a challenge. At CES 2020, Mojo Vision showed off its Augmented reality contact lens prototype. They managed to fit 14K pixels-per-inch microdisplays, wireless radios, image sensors, and motion sensors right in the lens itself. 

4. Sidebar: 3 Types of 5G

Much of what we are discussing here uses mmWave 5G. That is because it’s high speeds and low latency are what Industry 4.0 requires. However, the three* major carriers in the US are rolling out three different types of 5G. Recently, Samsung and Apple are introducing phones that support all three. Engineers should consider this same approach when designing products. You never know the exact situation in which your device will be used. 

Low-band – 600-700MHz covering hundreds of square miles. Speeds range from 30-250Mbps. (T-Mobile/AT&T)

Mid-band – 2.5/3.5GHz covering several-mile radius. Speeds range from 100-900Mbps. (T-Mobile)

mmWave high-band – 24-39GHz covering one mile or less radius. Speeds range from 1-3Gbps. (T-Mobile, AT&T, Verizon)

*At the time of this writing, Sprint and T-Mobile were on the verge of merging.

5. 5G Use Cases for Manufacturing

Callout: ABI Research forecasts that by 2028, manufacturing will account for nearly a quarter of total generated revenue in the 5G Ultra-Low Latency Use Cases (URLLC) market.

Harnessing Ultra-Low Latency

AR and VR applications are areas you will see Ultra-Low Latency put to task in manufacturing. Specialized pieces of equipment require qualified engineers to diagnose problems or make repairs, but those specialists are not always available.

Meanwhile, a production line is idle, and thousands, if not millions of dollars are lost. 5Gs low latency will open the door for devices such as AR headsets. An offsite engineer could guide technicians on-site as they diagnose and make a repair with the proper assistance. The engineer wouldn’t just talk them through it. The technician could access 3D streaming animations to serve as an example. 

Workers could virtually walk through different proposed production line changes by donning VR headsets and implementing digital twins. The manufacturer’s customers could do a walkthrough of their new ship before a single bolt has been put in place. Imagine the money saved when errors are caught while a process or product is still in the design phase. 

Improving Overall Equipment Effectiveness

Ericsson’s 5G trial system was tested in the production of blade integrated disks, or blisks, used in jet engines. Vibration sensors were mounted on a blisk while it was being milled in a precision machine. Typically, the manufacturer would only discover if there was a problem in the process once the milling process was complete. With the sensors operating on 3.5 GHz, the vibration spectrum was transmitted and evaluated in real-time. URLLC enabled the correlation of the vibration to the tool’s position, which allowed technicians to make immediate adjustments in real-time. When working with these precision machines, real-time means control loops under one millisecond. 

But this type of sensor isn’t just advantageous to jet engine manufacturers. Every machine on the factory floor can benefit from sensors that enable predictive maintenance and improvements to overall equipment effectiveness (OEE). Sensors that tell you when robots need recalibration, or when a machine requires more lubrication. Even a small metalworking shop can benefit from sensors that ensure their precision machines are, in fact, precise. The ease of implementation and the benefits make this investment an easy decision for any plant manager. 

Enhancing Safety

Walk into any manufacturing facility, and the first thing you will see is a sign with the number of days since their last accident. Safety is paramount on the factory floor and in the field. Environmental monitoring via sensors can alert workers to any hazardous changes to air quality. Vest loaded with equipped with sensors and signals could help first responders locate employees in emergencies. An injured person’s vitals could be communicated directly to those first responders. 

Cameras could sense and alert workers they are entering an area that requires a hardhat, or safety glasses. Oil rigs are experimenting with AR headsets that show workers the safest way to escape danger even when the air is thick with smoke. Sensors throughout the platform could communicate in real-time with the headset to let the worker know an exit is blocked and immediately reroute them. 

These are just some of the use cases that both large manufacturers and SMEs will find intriguing. Still, there are those use cases we cannot even imagine. 

6. Are You Inspired?

The story goes that a note was pinned to a site hut during the construction of the Konkan railway. The letter said, “I take the vision which comes from dreams and apply the magic of science and mathematics, adding the heritage of my profession and my knowledge of nature’s materials to create a design.

I organize the efforts and skills of my fellow workers employing the capital of the thrifty and the products of many industries, and together we work toward our goal undaunted by hazards and obstacles.

And when we have completed our task, all can see that the dreams and plans have materialized for the comfort and welfare of all.

I am an Engineer, I serve mankind, by making dreams come true.”

Hand writing Action Changes Things with white chalk on blackboard.

So, we can talk all we want about the impact 5G will have on manufacturing, but in the end, the future is in the hands of the engineers. What will you make tomorrow that you may not even envision or dream of today? 

7. Venkel’s Role in 5G

5G promises to deliver a fully connected mobile world that spans markets from connected cars and smart cities to smartphones and the internet of things (IoT) devices. Researchers noted that the acceleration of 5G adoption would require a strong commitment from component, device and chipset vendors. Not surprisingly, chipmakers have been getting 5G-ready with a host of components, chipsets and platforms, introduced over the past few years. Venkel is fully committed to supporting 5G’s rollout with new products and ramping up production on existing parts. Venkel theorizes that we may experience component shortages if 5G adoption is quick coupled with the innovations we are seeing in electric vehicles, autonomous cars and EDGE technology infrastructure. We may experience a component shortage like we experienced in 1999 and 2018. Venkel is already preparing for a situation like that and is ready to support our existing customers and any new customers than start working with Venkel.

Venkel offers a broad lineup of SMT components including Ceramic Capacitors, Diodes, Ferrite
Beads, Inductors, LEDs, Resistors, Tantalum Capacitors, Thermistors, Chock Coils and Resistor

Components that are often involved in 5G applications include:
• High Voltage MLCCs
• RF Inductors
• Large Case Size MLCCs (1210 and larger)
• High-Q Ceramic Capacitors
• Thin Film Precision Resistors
• High Current Ferrite Beads

Contact Venkel directly for more information or to request free samples.
Phone: 800-950-8365
Email: sales@venkelcom
Web: www.venkel.com

8. Resources

Industrial Internet Consortium

International Telecommunication Union (ITU)

The 5G Infrastructure Public Private Partnership

NYU Wireless


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