Private 5G networks offer greater speed and a competitive advantage
Article in Helsingin Sanomat’s technology supplement on 1 March 2023.
Private networks based on 5G technology, which many will be familiar with from public mobile networks, open up an almost unlimited number of new business opportunities for industrial companies. In addition to cost savings and boosted efficiency, the boldest early adopters of the new technology can expect to enjoy a significant competitive advantage.
Industry is defined by manual processes, which have been slow to digitalise in comparison to the processes of many other sectors. However, maturing technologies and growing requirements for wireless connectivity have also accelerated industry towards more efficient digitalised processes and the Fourth Industrial Revolution, Industry 4.0. New technologies, such as private 5G networks designed for companies’ internal use, are a key change driver.
“Private networks are communication networks that are tailored to a company’s needs and utilise technology used in public mobile networks, most commonly 5G. Private networks are remoulding industry by bringing reliable wireless communications to environments like factories, mines and ports where the capabilities of public mobile networks or Wi-Fi are typically insufficient”, explains Digita Ltd’s Business Development Director Henri Viljasjärvi.
The popularity of private network technology, which is eliminating many of the limitations of traditional wired networks, is currently soaring in many different sectors. For industrial companies, it offers an almost unlimited number of new opportunities.
“Wireless communications over a private network allow for the efficient utilisation of new technologies, such as machine learning and augmented reality, as well as person-to-person communication and all sorts of data collection, making it possible to maintain an improved, real-time situational picture.
“This enables new ways of doing things that boost production efficiency, increase safety, improve decision-making and create costs savings”, Viljasjärvi lists.
A reliable solution that scales to the customer’s needs
Digita has decades of experience in designing, building and maintaining wireless networks and offers comprehensive private network solutions on a monthly subscription basis. In addition to Digita’s long and wide-ranging experience, its expertise is also reinforced by its network of partners, which includes the world’s leading private network technology company, Nokia.
“Nokia provides us with the technology that we use to build solutions that respond precisely to our customers’ needs. Our greatest strengths are our decades of experience and the agility enabled by our 200-strong organisation. Our customers don’t need to invest in the network at all, because we offer a 24-hour service with local support throughout Finland, all run on a turnkey principle”, Viljasjärvi says.
“Over the course of 15 years, Nokia’s portfolio has come to include more than 500 private networks. We know the challenges and needs of sectors like the manufacturing, energy and transport industries inside and out. We are capable of offering precisely the solutions needed to many different branches of industry”, explains Nokia’s Head of Manufacturing & Logistics Sales for Europe Myriam Fatene. The customizability underlined by both Viljasjärvi and Fatene is one of the key benefits and points of difference private networks enjoy over public networks. Individual companies cannot mould the coverage, performance or security of public networks to their needs, but private networks can be shaped to exacting requirements.
“We build networks precisely where our customers need them. An excellent example of this is Agnico Eagle Finland’s gold mine in Kittilä, where we built a private network in collaboration with Nokia and Telia. It is the first 5G Standalone network in the world to operate in an underground mine environment”, Viljasjärvi says.
The predictable performance and reliability of private networks also has significant advantages for industrial applications.
“Digital transformation consists of four steps: data collection, data analysis, predictive analysis and, finally, automation and control. To reach the latter stages, you need a sufficiently reliable connection. Private networks offer a reliable and effective solution for collecting data that is critical to companies’ operations”, Fatene says.
Another benefit private networks have over traditional network solutions lies in their excellent in-built data security. Because the infrastructure of a private network is located entirely within areas and facilities belonging to the customer, their data never leaves their control. Strong encryption makes attacking the network a daunting task, and the level of security can be adjusted according to the customer’s wishes.
“If necessary, we can build a network that is entirely closed and isolated”, Viljasjärvi says.
Security does not only have benefits for the network; it also affects the everyday lives of people employed in industry. Smart equipment and devices minimise safety risks, allow for new safety practices to be employed and improve the monitoring of these practices.
“One particularly security-critical environment is Posiva’s final nuclear waste disposal solution, Onkalo, for which Digita, Nokia and Telia are jointly providing a 5G network”, Viljasjärvi says.
From traditional factory building to data ecosystem
Modern industrial companies need to be able to constantly increase their flexibility. Thanks to the level of automation enabled by private 5G networks, both the adaptability and productivity of factory environments can be improved significantly. Viljasjärvi and Fatene highlight that the factory of the future will increasingly rarely be just a factory building, but an ecosystem that efficiently utilises data to create new business models.
“The different subsections of the factory environment can be connected to different IT systems using private networks, allowing them to reliably communicate with each other. In practice, this can mean many things, such as automated forklifts, hand terminals and detecting various events and generating data based on them by utilising video, AI and machine learning”, Viljasjärvi says, describing the possibilities of private networks in a factory environment.
Fatene concurs and offers a concrete example from the automotive industry.
“For example, private 5G networks can be used in the auto industry to efficiently collect data throughout the entire production process. In addition to this, software can be installed on cars as they move along the production line, which cuts down on the time spent installing the software and eliminates a potential bottleneck at the end of the production process”, she says.
Private network technology can also be used to smooth material flows. At their best, changes can lead to significant cost savings in warehousing.
Gaining a competitive advantage through digitalisation
Though industrial companies have an ever-growing supply of new technological solutions at their disposal, Viljasjärvi and Fatene remind everyone that digitalisation is not just about technology. Taking the leap into the digital age requires industrial companies that are accustomed to manual work to display a readiness to change their established practices and adopt an entirely new way of thinking.
“Industrial companies are currently grappling with accelerated inflation and the cost pressures that come with it. Now more than ever is the time to weigh whether it is worth looking for the necessary savings and increases in efficiency using tried and tested methods or whether it is time to try something new instead”, Viljasjärvi says.
Utilising mobile technology for commercial purposes is a new and global trend in information and communications technology. The concept is expected to be applied much more broadly in the coming years, but, for the time being, few Finnish industrial companies have taken the plunge and started improving their operations using the new technologies. Because of this, there is no shortage of space for completely new business models and innovations.
“Companies that have the courage to take the first step now will be the first to reach the finish line and will achieve a significant advantage over their competitors”, Viljasjärvi summarises.
Text: Saana Lehtinen. Pictures: Patrik Pesonen and Nokia. Original article published in Helsingin Sanomat’s technology supplement on 1 March 2023.