By Alex Sinclair, CTO, GSMA
We will remember 2021 as the year global supply chains ground to a halt. Intermittent lockdowns, manufacturing delays, inventory shortages, workforce issues, and other Covid-19 restrictions have contributed to a cascade, affecting the reliable availability of products across many sectors.
As consumers, our experience with logistics transformed in recent years through the slick ‘front end’ of e-commerce platforms and rapid home delivery. Expectations have shifted, and if something isn’t available for immediate delivery, we look elsewhere.
Beyond this façade, the last few months have exposed the shortcomings of a fragmented logistics industry, often running on archaic paper-based processes, disjointed data sitting in siloes, and limited use of Internet connectivity.
Technological innovation seeks to overcome these challenges and accelerate the digital transformation of supply chains. The advent of 5G and the near-ubiquity of mobile Internet offers significantly improved connectivity to revolutionise operations.
5G can play a central role in the modernisation of global logistics. Here are four key areas where it’s making a difference in logistics processes now.
Manufacturing and mining
The power of 5G is now being realised at the entry point of a product’s journey, in the mining and manufacturing stages, becoming a cornerstone of industry 4.0.
Private 5G networks can offer fast, reliable, and secure wireless connectivity solutions in mining, enabling widespread coverage and ensuring high device density and low latency. Practically, this expands the use of automation for drilling and blasting and improves rock bolts, providing increased safety in caves and preventing the loss of production or equipment. In a highly hazardous sector, anything that reduces safety risks and the number of workers underground is welcome.
Akin to mining, 5G can also improve manufacturing processes. By enabling ultra-reliable communication, greater bandwidth and support for higher device density use-cases, 5G improves real-time communication between machines while hosting more devices and sensors. This has the potential to maximise productivity and output quality.
Digitising supply chain processes
Inventory management is a crucial part of well-functioning supply chains. Traditionally, this meant regular warehouse stock checks – a costly, time-consuming and sometimes dangerous process for workers.
A recent proof-of-concept involving 5G-enabled Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs), commonly referred to as drones, demonstrated how higher quality, round-the-clock inspections can provide more accurate and up to date inventory data. The Telefónica project deployed the UAVs using Unmanned Life’s orchestration platform on the MobiledgeX Telco Edge Cloud.
The project demonstrated the potential of automating manual processes to reduce labour and other costs while adding greater overall value to existing supply chains. The platform's flexibility also suggests we can apply it to a broader range of manufacturing, logistics and inspection applications.
In particular, ports have become one of the major bottlenecks disrupting global supply chains. Evidence from trial projects of 5G enabled ‘smart ports’ in Rotterdam and Barcelona demonstrate the potential to alleviate some of the logistical pressure seen last year.
5G connected sensors, cameras, and devices form an integrated communications system alongside AI, cloud, and edge computing technology. This can facilitate intelligent autonomous ground vehicles and drones to automatically load and unload, broadcast cargo inventory information and help navigate vessels in real-time. The backbone of these systems relies on a fast, reliable, and high-bandwidth connection that is only possible with 5G’s speed and performance.
Self-driving systems are seeing increased investment and are likely to revolutionise road freight on public roads, and 5G is central to its advocacy. With minimal lag, 5G reduces the time for autonomous vehicles to make decisions on the road and ensures improved safety and reliability.
A proof-of-concept for 5G in last-mile delivery by Ericsson, Einride and Telia demonstrated a sustainable, reliable, and safe transport system through their autonomous, 5G-powered trucks. Nicknamed the ‘T-pod’, the fully electric driverless truck, has been introduced into a logistics facility in Jönköping, Sweden, as part of an intelligent transport ecosystem.
Faster, better, stronger
It’s clear that 5G is set to play a revolutionary role in our lives and has much potential in supporting a range of innovative technologies in global logistics. Incremental improvements at each stage of the supply chain can result in a greater overall transformation.
Exponentially faster data speeds and reduced latency through 5G will give rise to a more responsive network to support this transformation while paving the way for integrating Internet-enabled smart devices along logistics supply chains and processes. The transformation will render logistics processes faster, safer, and more reliable and will ultimately lead to a better experience for consumers and businesses alike.
To learn more about how 5G can fuel Industry 4.0 and transform global supply chains, visit GSMA's Industry City at MWC22 Barcelona: https://www.mwcbarcelona.com/industry-city.