5G technology is gaining in popularity. Ericsson’s engineers have no doubt that it will also have a significant impact on logistics and will form the basis of advanced solutions for the TSL sector – from drones and autonomous truck convoys to specialised sensors capable of monitoring even individual products in transport. All of this will facilitate access to logistics operations and increase their transparency.
The fifth-generation (5G) network is, putting it simply, an ultra-fast Internet connection. Plans for its expansion are provoking increasing interest in Poland and Europe. The data transmission speed is several dozen times higher in 5G than in 4G LTE technology. The bandwidth is huge.
The 5G technology itself is already available, but it requires the allocation of appropriate bands and frequencies to function. The European Commission expects to see broad 5G coverage in the Member States in 2025.
“Limiting the advantages of the 5G Internet to watching 4K movies in the truck cabin is too much of simplification and linking the new technology only with entertainment. Meanwhile, 5G makes it possible to connect up to 100 mobile devices per square meter to the network, and the work of thousands of interconnected objects, the so-called Internet of Things, means a vision of another revolution for the logistics and transport industry,” predicts Marcin Sugak from Ericsson.
High bandwidth and no delays in 5G transmission will improve the transparency of the entire supply chain. The relationship between performance and high-speed wireless communication seems obvious. Voices are heard that without this it will not be possible, for example, to popularise drones or autonomous vehicles.
In 2018, Ericsson, in cooperation with the Swedish telecommunications operator Telia and the startup company Einride, began testing the Einride T-Pod cabinless truck (at the DB Schenker logistics centre in Jönköping). The organisers of the project forecast that it is T-Pod (the first-ever autonomous truck with a public roadworthiness permit) and the 5G-based autonomous transport system that will have a chance to replace over 60% of today’s road transport in the future.
In a recent survey conducted by Gartner, two-thirds of companies plan to implement 5G by 2020.
According to Supply Chain Dive analysts, these organisations expect 5G networks to be used mainly for communication and the Internet of Things (IoT), and see a key benefit in operational efficiency.
Experts anticipate that the impact of 5G will be noticeable in the logistics industry, from vehicle-to-vehicle communication to item tracking. The spread of sensors for tracking goods in transit raises great hopes. The scope of data collected by such devices can be very wide and refer to a specific pallet or package, but also to a single piece, e.g. a spare part being transported. When preparing goods for transport, it will be easier to use augmented reality applications.
“The potential of 5G is the ubiquitous level of physical and digital connectivity for product tracking and monitoring,” said Andrew Stevens of Supply Chain Dive.
According to Gartner, companies will build their own 5G networks for specific applications and individual facilities.
“We see opportunities for large international companies like DHL to set up their own networks to ensure the highest levels of availability, quality and security,” said Sally Miller (DHL) in a statement for Supply Chain Dive.
One of the tasks will also be to use technology in transport management and predictive analyses (collecting and analysing available historical data to create future action models). Balika Sonthalia (A.T. Kearney), one of the authors of the 2019 Logistics Status Report issued by the Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) sees four key 5G applications.
First, supply chains will be provided with a better synchronisation tool.
5G will make it easier and more effective to monitor temperature, humidity and other environmental factors for sensitive products. It will be possible to monitor not only the entire semi-trailer but also individual pallets, as well as specific goods or components placed on pallets (e.g. industries sending large quantities of small packages or combining products into sets will gain). “Thanks to the technology available today, you can measure the status of the product at the vehicle level, but you cannot monitor it at the product level. 5G allows you to monitor it at the SKU level, so you have more detailed knowledge about the condition of your product,” specialists say.
Second, 5G is to improve the visibility of shipments; it will be possible to precisely determine the time of delivery of individual batches or even specific pieces of goods to specific recipients.
The network splitting function allows for the distribution of 5G capacity between particular devices. According to Gartner, 5G can connect in a very dense environment, up to 1 million sensors per square kilometre. 5G-enabled sensors will allow tracking objects smaller than those that can be cost-effectively monitored with current technology.
Third, 5G will facilitate connectivity, both indoors and outdoors, and due to better penetration of buildings, 5G networks can combine indoor and outdoor operations and networks.
5G can combine mobile outdoor communications such as LTM or 4G with indoor technology such as WiFi. For example, forwarders will be able to better plan outbound orders including goods that have not yet been received in the warehouse.
“We can start imagining a smooth transition in network communication from the warehouse to external transport,” explains S. Miller from DHL.
As automation and the spread of the Internet of Things increases, communication between systems will become increasingly important (machines not only send data back to databases, they often communicate with each other helping to solve problems in real time). It will also make it easier to deploy, track and redirect supplies.
Fourth, 5G will accelerate real-time data transfer.
In 5G technology, the delay between the detection of an event by the sensor and its recognition by the system will practically cease to exist. In transport, this will enable virtually immediate response in critical cases. The transfer rate is also to be of great importance for automated trucks and warehouse robots, for example. In order to take full advantage of the ‘data explosion’ that this technology will bring, it will be necessary to expand the infrastructure. What is important here is to be able to use this kind of ‘information bank’ at the right time, either for the purpose of responding to specific events on an ongoing basis or for predictive analysis.
On the other hand, experts reassure future users of 5G-based solutions about the security of this data. They ensure that the technological risks will be similar to those of the 4G LTE, and that unknown types of threats to cybersecurity are unlikely to emerge.