Industrial 5G Devices – Architecture and Capabilities

5G enables reliable, low-latency, high-bandwidth data transmission, making it a key technology for the future of industrial communications. The introduction of 5G to factories and a wide range of other industrial facilities is also creating a need for industrial devices that support the 5G standard.


Executive Summary

This white paper provides an overview of the kinds of devices that can be needed in order for 5G to benefit the manufacturing industry and related sectors. As 5G systems are implemented in factories and other settings, attention is increasingly shifting to designing devices that will let them work on the shop floor. A whole new generation of 5G-compatible devices is now being developed. This paper provides an introduction and practical guide to this field for everyone who is directly or indirectly involved in it, whether they are academics, manufacturers, factory owners or operators, designers, or engineers. Its main purpose is to provide an easy-to-read overview of the various categories of devices and solutions that are now appearing, while going into greater technical detail on key technical topics and design issues.

The main types of 5G devices are presented and described and a number of real-world examples discussed while describing the most important technical issues, challenges, and solutions involved in each case. On a more theoretical level, reference architectures are then presented for the most common types of industrial 5G devices, including generic block diagrams.

Finally, various aspects of the physical architecture of such devices are discussed, covering challenges such as explosion protection, storage of credentials, the pros and cons of chipset versus module solutions, radio module form factor standards, a comparison of standalone and integrated application processors, and implementation of interfaces.

Key messages

Insight and Vision

The design of industrial 5G devices requires skills from several different engineering disciplines. Some aspects which influence the design choices include:

  • Reliable communications
  • Low latency
  • High throughput
  • Time synchronization
  • Accurate positioning
  • Protection from rain, dust, and other environmental influences in industrial settings
  • Electromagnetic compatibility to avoid adverse interactions with other equipment and ensure safety
  • Prevention of explosions in hazardous areas
  • Battery-powered operation and low power consumption

When designing industrial 5G devices, it is essential to take these and many other aspects into account.

As shown in the figure above, an industrial 5G device has a 5G radio interface for communicating with local peripherals or a local network. The local peripherals are typically sensors and actuators, while the local network will typically be industrial Ethernet or fieldbus.

From a logical perspective, an industrial 5G device comprises a 5G network termination, a local network termination, and application functionality. It also includes configuration and management functions (not shown in the figure above).

In physical terms, an industrial 5G device generally comprises a radio module and an application processor as shown above. There are multiple options for designing the physical interface between the application processor and radio module. Which is most appropriate in a given case depends on data throughput, latency, and time synchronization requirements.

There are also other options for designing the physical architecture. One is to use individual chips instead of a radio module. Although this approach has some advantages, it typically requires a greater development and certification effort. Another is to integrate the application processor in the radio module. Although this reduces the number of components, fewer development environments are available than for a standalone application processor.


Retrospect and Outlook

In this white paper, we have discussed the architectural choices for industrial 5G devices. They depend on several criteria, including:

  • The type of industrial 5G device
  • Authentication based on USIM or EAP and how the credentials are stored in the industrial 5G device
  • The latency, throughput, and time synchronization needed for the industrial 5G device
  • The environmental characteristics of the industrial 5G device. This includes protection from water, dust, vibration, and extreme temperatures as well as classification for operation in hazardous areas.
  • Power characteristics and whether the industrial 5G device will be battery-powered or plugged into the grid

In the white paper, we introduce a new functional entity called an EAP identity function (EIF). The EIF holds the credentials needed for EAP authentication plus other relevant information that is otherwise stored in the USIM.

The white paper also addresses the use of the GSMA standardized remote SIM provisioning (RSP) standard. From a technical perspective, the remote SIM provisioning standards may meet the need for provisioning operator credentials in a private network setting. However, the ecosystem for the remote SIM provisioning standards has been optimized for public operators. It would be beneficial to adopt the remote SIM provisioning ecosystem to also meet the needs of private networks.


We have awoken your interest?

Do you want to learn more about this future-oriented topic? Please download or share the 5G-ACIA white paper as a PDF file.

Relevant White Papers

Integration of OPC UA in 5G Networks
OPC UA is a platform-independent standard that is used for communication among various types of devices and systems in the...
NPNs for Industrial Scenarios
Where do you start if you want to start using 5G in your industrial operation? One of the first things...
Using 5G sidelink in industrial factory applications
The aim of this 5G-ACIA white paper is to identify and understand uses for 5G sidelink in industrial factory and...
Key 5G Use Cases and Requirements
A 5G Traffic Model for Industrial Use Cases
Integration of Industrial Ethernet Networks with 5G Networks
Selected Testing and Validation Considerations for Industrial Communication with 5G Technologies
5G Non-Public Networks for Industrial Scenarios