The Fourth Industrial Revolution driven by digitization, automation, AI and interconnected technologies demands universal connectivity across smart factories, distributed assets and dynamic operations. Cellular presents the ideal wireless networking fabric enabling mobility, low latency, security and centralized management at scale.
By providing comprehensive coverage, high reliability, low costs and simple deployment, cellular promises to be the connective tissue revolutionizing Industry 4.0 and unlocking transformation benefits from automation efficiency to visibility-driven insights.
As 5G further enhances performance, flexibility and wireless integration, manufacturers are actively transitioning away from complex legacy wired and WiFi networks burdened by interoperability, security and scalability constraints. Here we explore why industry is embracing cellular as the networking backbone to propel digital transformation.
Ubiquitous and Reliable Coverage
The distributed nature of today’s manufacturing environments with assets spread across campuses, warehouses and outdoor production zones makes pervasive wireless connectivity imperatives. Unlike WiFi limited to fixed access points requiring extensive deployment, cellular leverages existing wide-area infrastructure for built-in coverage.
For large manufacturers like Steelcase, cellular allowed shifting from manually configuring over 6,000 routers to achieve campus-wide WiFi to simply activating LTE networking across multiple sites leveraging carrier infrastructure. This eliminates coverage dead zones while providing a foundation to support IoT device expansion.
Critically for industry, cellular wireless consistently delivers over 99% uptime meeting the high reliability demands of mission-critical operations. Carriers build extensive redundancies and failover mechanisms into their networks, while localized outages are rare given broad tower footprints. This assures 24/7 manufacturing productivity.
Cellular’s ubiquitous coverage across public and private networks will be key for organizations to seize emerging opportunities from deploying AI and automation horizontally across end-to-end processes. Reliable wireless connectivity between machines, assets, vehicles and wearables provides the enabling foundation.
Low Latency Connectivity
The responsiveness of manufacturing operations depends on microseconds counting when coordinating activities across decentralized digitized environments. This makes millisecond cellular latencies highly attractive compared to WiFi links averaging up to 100X slower response times.
5G further slashes latency to single digit milliseconds. By combining edge computing to process data locally with enhanced 5G speed, ultra-reliable responsiveness is assured even for time-sensitive control requirements. This will help manufacturers achieve precision coordination optimizing production.
“Cellular provides the low latency connectivity essential for synchronization across distributed assets,” explained Rajan Bhandari, CEO of wireless technology firm Celona. “This foundation is key to driving efficiencies through digital orchestration.”
According to an IFS survey, improving connectivity speed was a top priority for 64% of manufacturing firms deploying private 5G applications. Driving decisions is the growing imperative of real-time data flows underpinning intelligent automation and dynamic operations.
Enhanced Mobility and Flexibility
From large warehouse robots to tablets used by plant floor personnel, mobility represents a key advantage of cellular connectivity over wired or WiFi networks. Manufacturers can enhance workflow efficiency, safety and accuracy by freeing workers and assets from cables and location constraints.
Cellular allows equipment to be freely moved as needs dictate rather than limited to fixed access point proximity. Materials, products and tools attached with tags can be located in real-time anywhere on site as they transit through production and logistics processes.
This boosts asset utilization as bottlenecks are prevented through visibility across mobile operations. Workforces also benefit from anytime voice and data access enabled by cellular networks to collaborate hands-free using apps, calls and messaging from any facility zone.
Private 4G/5G networks with cellular offer manufacturer additional flexibility to customize portions of spectrum for niche use cases like radio-controlled AGVs that require uninterrupted connectivity. This brings key benefits of WiFi like predictability with cellular’s mobility advantages.
Enhanced Security and Reliability
Maintaining air tight cybersecurity is central to modern IT strategies for production environments relying on IP-connected systems. The risks of production downtime or safety incidents due to malicious actors make threat prevention imperative.
Cellular networks provide inherent security advantages over WiFi including network authentication, data encryption and tamper-proof SIMs. And segregating OT systems from general IT networks using private cellular infrastructure provides added isolation.
Leading wireless carriers like AT&T additionally offer 24/7 monitoring, threat detection and incident response services tailored specifically for the demands of OT environments. This managed security approach helps manufacturers secure operations consistently and cost-effectively.
“The cybersecurity advantages built into cellular make it ideal for manufacturers who cannot risk open vulnerabilities,” noted Microsoft’s Director of Azure for Operators John Hoffman. “It provides the foundations for a zero-trust network model.”
Lower Total Cost of Ownership
Despite upfront CapEx investments required for on-premise private networks, cellular wirelessdelivers substantially lower total cost of ownership long-term compared to sustainably operating and upgrading WiFi deployments.
Eliminating wiring/cabling reduces set-up costs while built-in coverage through outdoor cellular tower footprints avoids sizable expenditures on access point hardware required for WiFi along with IT resources to continually configure and monitor connections.
Maintaining WiFi also incurs software licensing costs for management and controllers. Cellular networks managed by external carriers shift this responsibility to specialists at predictable costs aligned with usage rather than tactical IT personnel. The reliability of carrier networks further minimizes productivity lost to downtime and outages.
Seamless Scalability for IIoT Expansion
Today’s manufacturers must prepare networking to support massive scales of IIoT devices as deployments expand from trials to tens of thousands of sensors, robots and autonomous platforms across facilities.
Cellular networks provide seamless scalability regardless of asset volumes due to the multicell coordinated infrastructure underpinning wireless coverage expansively across sites. Adding more SIM-connected devices automatically taps into available capacity.
This enables scaling IoT rollout from limited pilots to campus-wide initiatives encompassing the entirety of operations over time without WiFi-like discontinuities requiring significant rearchitecting. Carrier coordination ensures cellular can expand to match manufacturers’ ambitions.
The fragmented use of proprietary protocols across drove islands of connectivity in the past as machines, sensors and software from different vendors couldn’t interact. Cellular provides native interoperability using standard 3GPP interfaces that unify networks.
This allows devices and platforms across manufacturers to communicate over a common high performance language. Rather than costly custom integrations, data transparency across operations is achieved using shared compatible cellular protocols.
For manufacturers, systems interoperability enabled by cellular is foundational to break down data siloes across equipment, sites and partners. It enables end-to-end data flows connecting OT with business insights and outward to suppliers/customers. This drives coordination advantages.
Path to 5G and Beyond
Today’s commercial 5G networks are still being built-out but enterprises can prepare for the technology’s ultra high-speed, low latency benefits by deploying supporting cellular infrastructure upfront that will be forward compatible.
Private networks within facilities provide the controlled testing environments allowing manufacturers to perfect indoor 5G-enabled use cases like autonomous mobile robot coordination before wide launches. This facilitates smooth evolution as carriers activate 5G locally.
The 3GPP standards roadmap will likewise assure cellular networks can support the next generations of wireless innovation on the horizon like 6G. For manufacturers, investing in cellular now is a commitment to sustained modernization rather than tactical exemption needing frequent replacement.
The Cellular Imperative
In summary, ubiquitous coverage, robust security, low latency, seamless scalability and inherent interoperability make enterprise cellular networking the preferred connectivity foundation enabling manufacturers to realize the digitized, automated factory of the future.
“The benefits of pervasive mobility, real-time responsiveness and out-of-the-box interoperability offered by cellular are central to fulfilling the Industry 4.0 vision,” remarked Rajan Bhandari of Celona.
But to benefit, manufacturers must begin planning cellular adoption in parallel with broader digital transformation initiatives. Waiting risks impeding progress if legacy networks cannot keep pace with emerging smart factory capabilities and production volumes.
With growing examples demonstrating cellular’s transformational potential from automotive plants to pharmaceutical manufacturers, it is becoming a competitive necessity manufacturers cannot ignore if they hope to compete in an Industry 4.0 future.
“Private cellular is rapidly moving from bleeding edge to leading edge as organizations recognize benefits,” noted Microsoft’s John Hoffman. “We foresee the coming years seeing it become as essential as WiFi is in workplaces today as digital takes hold.”
While indoor 5G deployment costs will continue declining, manufacturers can get started now leveraging 4G LTE’s solid performance to enable foundational use cases. This allows building operational experience while 5G matures over coming years to support advanced applications requiring ultra-low latency like synchronized automation.
By embracing cellular connectivity today, manufacturers position themselves to continuously capitalize on wireless advances long into the future. The convergence of connectivity everywhere through cellular and compute anywhere through edge computing will be the springboard for leveraging AI and data to reinvent manufacturing operations, productivity and quality.
In closing, cellular connectivity provides the flexible, scalable and interoperable networking fabric allowing manufacturers to unlock their full Industry 4.0 potential. With comprehensive coverage assuring reliability along with standards enabling unified data flows, operations can transform end-to-end leveraging the power of mobility, coordination and insights. The time is now for industry to embrace cellular wireless as its platform for digital progress and competitiveness.