Berlin, Dresden, AachenTo transform a normal car factory on the outskirts of Aachen into the factory of the future, 36 antennas are enough. In work 1 of "Ego Mobile", the electric car company of post-scooter inventor Günther Schuh, was shown on Wednesday, where the journey for the industry in the era of real-time mobile radio 5G should go.
In the 8,500 square meter workshop, only a few human employees work on the 26 assembly units. The rest is taken over by computers and machines, all of which are networked together.
Did the 5G future really start in Aachen? Not quite so, admits VodafoneSpokesman. Although many of the techniques are already in use in Aachen, such as a particularly low latency, which makes a data transmission almost in real time possible. Or new types of cloud services that are not processed remotely in server systems, but rather at the edge of the network, called edge computing.
But still the work is operated with the established mobile radio standard 4G. "In August, we also started with 5G," said the spokesman.
So a 5G presentation without 5G? The press event of Vodafone, Ericsson and Ego in Aachen testifies to a race that has started between the network operators. Everyone wants to be the first. Although that means that the formulations, which is 4G and what is 5G, are designed to be significantly more generous. "We're talking about 5G technologies," the Vodafone spokesman said.
These are already enough to make a new form of production possible. Autonomous transport systems pick up the goods, spark their route and bring them automatically to the assembly. There, employees use networked tools, such as torque wrenches, that can receive data.
They are adjusted with the correct torque, depending on which assembly unit the employee is in and which screw has to be mounted. "Our Plant 1 is a true Industry 4.0 factory," said Schuh.
For industrial companies, whether medium-sized or large corporations, 5G is the big promise to revolutionize production. With the real-time mobile radio network, individual production steps can be monitored and networked with each other, thus making production more efficient and cheaper. In short: who networks his factory with 5G, can gain enormous competitive advantages.
Last week ended the auction of frequencies for 5G mobile in Germany. Around 6.5 billion euros paid by the network operators Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone, Telefónica (O2) as well as the challenger United Internet (1 & 1) at the auction. Now the companies are competing for the first 5G-based solutions.
Although Vodafone sells the project as a flagship model for the 5G technology. But so far was the Deutsche Telekom months ago. The example of the company Osram showed the DaxGroup, which benefits should 5G offer in the future. So far, the test models are all based on 4G technology. The true efficiency gains and the particularly fast data transfer should only offer the update to 5G.
However, admitted the Telekom frankly that she still relies on a preliminary stage. "We want to show what is possible," said T-Systems boss Adel Al-Saleh at the launch of the project. "We still use 4G. But we want to switch to 5G as soon as possible. "
The network operators are in a race. Everyone wants to be the first. Because in 5G solutions for companies, the greatest potential lies in theirs. There you can earn money. The nationwide expansion of technology throughout Germany is initially a financial feat. But some antennas built specifically next to factories can pay off quickly, according to the calculators of the network operators.
However, it is precisely in this area that numerous competitors bring themselves into position. In Germany not only frequencies were auctioned, but also local frequencies reserved for the economy (see article page 19). You can apply to the Federal Network Agency. This allows companies to build their own networks, without relying on the network operators.
For these solutions, the outfitter Ericsson and Nokia on. So far, they are mainly relying on cooperation with network operators. But already at the Hannover Messe in April, the two suppliers made it clear that they would be able to offer solutions for corporate customers even without the network operators.
"We try to respond to the needs of our customers as best as possible," announced Ericsson CEO Stefan Koetz.
The technology company Bosch wants to become a clock in the area 5G. First, the company wants to better network their own factories. On the other hand, she can also imagine selling solutions based on 5G to customers. And she does not see herself bound to the assistance of mobile radio operators.
Bosch open to all
"The possible operator models range from the complete self-operation of a private 5G network by the factory operator to complete outsourcing," said Andreas Müller, Head of Communications and Network Technology at Bosch.
Many concepts are possible. For example, a factory operator could outsource network planning and maintenance to a service provider, but could even take care of the actual management of the network. "Bosch examines these different models and will be fully involved in its own IT expertise," said Müller. There is no decision yet.
The decisive factor is the business model. The industrial groups hope for efficiency gains by 5G. But they also want to pay as little as possible in order to make their factories fit for future technology.
That's why Bosch explores many options. "Both established market participants and new providers, for example from the start-up community, will satisfy the demand with offers," Müller is convinced.
Even with offers from the network operators, many questions remain open. This is shown by the example in Aachen. Schuh's work, with its 8,500 square meters, is comparatively small, and not with the large production halls of VW and Co. comparable.
There are only a few machines, few employees and few tools to connect to the 5G network, and only 10,000 vehicles are produced annually in one-shift operation. It is also unclear how secure 5G networks are against hacker attacks.
For Günther Schuh these questions were of secondary importance on Wednesday. "While the 5G auction was running, we secretly set up our own 5G network here," he said proudly. For him, the 5G network of his factory is the next coup against the big carmakers in Germany. That his "5G network" so far is actually a 4G network, he does not say.
Shoe already built a small electric truck in Aachen in 2014, when Swiss Post requested these vehicles and the German car companies could not deliver them.
Schuh is also selling an electric small car for less than 20,000 euros with Ego Life, while VW, Daimler and BMW are still working to reduce the cost of their e-car production to make their e-cars fit for the mass market. And at the networked factory, Schuh is one step ahead of the big one.
For while Mercedes and Telefónica announced a similar 5G project in a factory in Sindelfingen at the beginning of the week, the Aachen professor is already showing initial applications in his factory.
Factory without assembly lines
"The first 5G network in automotive production is a quantum leap, enabling engineers to produce high quality, low cost e-cars," says Schuh. So he renounces in his factory on assembly lines. They are not necessary in modern production. Instead, he uses a driverless transport system from drive manufacturer SEW.
At the Hanover Fair in April, the German drive manufacturer presented the 5G-based system together with Ego Mobile. Sensors record the surrounding information, which is evaluated directly on site by mobile edge computing, ie small real-time data centers, and sent back to the vehicle via real-time radio.
This not only makes production more flexible. Shoe can also save staff with this system and thus reduce costs. For the ego boss, this is business-critical. Because only if electromobility is affordable, it makes sense. That's why Schuh optimizes production processes.
However, he receives significant support from Vodafone. Namely, the mobile operator is likely to bear a large part of the cost of the radio system used, which, according to Schuh, amounts to a higher single-digit million euro amount.
Schuh only pays Vodafone a monthly project fee, which is much lower. "If you're a small fish in the shark tank, you need a big partner," says Schuh.
Vodafone Germany boss Hannes Ametsreiter did not want to decide whether to support industrial partners in the future for a monthly fee or a one-off payment for the networking of factories with 5G.
For him it is also clear that it is much easier to network a factory like that of Günther Schuh. "It's probably easier for anyone starting 5G networked production now because they do not need to consider old structures," says the Vodafone manager.
So the Ego factory in Aachen is rather a showroom and test laboratory as a practical application example. Because for many, which was presented in Aachen, it does not necessarily require a gigabit connection. Even with a 4G or a Wi-Fi connection, for example, a torque wrench could be activated.
In addition, Vodafone pays to gain experience for further industry collaborations. In the future, the mobile network operator sees the networking of factories as a new business field. For example, Vodafone is currently also testing the use of Augmented Reality based on 5G technology in production.
The drive manufacturer SEW, in turn, hopes to win more customers for its autonomous transport system through Schuh's flagship project. So far, Ego Mobile is the only industrial customer.
More: The Federal Network Agency has reserved a quarter of the 5G frequencies for local applications such as campus solutions. That causes trouble for network operators.
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