The pace of change for Industrial 4.0 adherents moves very slowly—glacially so—but innovations are now emerging, whether end customers in various industries come along any time soon.
Take Qualcomm’s new 315 5G IoT Modem, for example, designed for Industrial IoT applications such as energy, manufacturing, construction, mining and precision agriculture.
The 315 is modem-to-antenna hardware designed to help device makers build upgradeable LTE and 5G bridges and related gear for IIoT. Judging the number of companies that Qualcomm named on Friday that wish to use the new modem in their industrial gear, there already seems to be a good chance it will be a hit—albeit like a slow drip over several years.
Among those customers who said they wish to use the 315 modem are Bosch, Telit, Schneider Electric and Siemens as well as a number of embedded device makers such as MeiG, HMS, Fibocom and Quectel. In a statement, Quectel said its new 5G NR modules will use the 315 to deliver high data rate, low end-to-end latency and reliable connections to IoT segments like smart energy and private 5G.
An important feature to Quectel and others is that the 315 is compatible to existing 5G and LTE modules.
Qualcomm’s 315 will be commercially available in the second half of 2021, and Qualcomm did not specify a price point. However, the company said it is hoping its module will “help stimulate and scale the 5G IoT industry and enable the transitions needed for Industry 4.0.”
Qualcomm said because the module is built with the intention to make 5G IoT more widely available, attainable and adaptable, it will be priced with those objectives and intentions in mind.
The modem supports 5G NR sub-6GHz bands and operates in standalone only mode with the capability to switch to LTE as needed. It can be used in private or public 5G networks, using networking slicing or in isolation. It can be integrated with existing ethernet and wired tech.
The movement to 5G in factory and industrial settings to create wireless networks will help improve speeds and lower latency, but devices need to be small enough and temperature-tolerant to be deployed. For industries that operate on 20-year technology timeline with mission-critical functions, upgrading to 5G will clearly be a long slog.
“5G future-proofing [for industrial] will take effort to invest over several years,” said Vieri Vanghi, vice president of product management at Qualcomm in an interview with Fierce Electronics. Industrial 4.0 “is moving at a glacial pace…It will take years, but we need to start now.”
Martin Garner, chief operating officer of CCS Insight, said industrial users do need to move carefully and slowly to 5G and other technology innovations because “the costs are so large and potentially so damaging if something goes wrong. They have little interest in being on the bleeding edge, do not want to take any possible security risks and need to feel comfortable that supplier support will exist for many years go come.”
One bright side of the COVID-19 pandemic is that many large industrial players have reevaluated their general approach to new technology, he said. “There is now generally a stronger appetite for embracing change as part of a faster digitalization strategy,” he said.
Prakash Sangam, founder of Tantra Analyst, said the 315 modem will mainly address a set of use cases for high bandwidth, high speed, high capacity, long battery life and high reliability needed for factory automation, connectivity in retail stores, video surveillance and asset protection, robotics, signage and agricultural automation.
A purpose-built modem other than the X65 for smartphones is needed to meet rugged performance in industrial locations, he added.
“Qualcomm 315 meets most of these needs, if not all,” Sangam said. “There is indeed a need for such a product. The long list of endorsements from different parts of the IoT ecosystem, from modules vendors as well as large industrial players, makes it pretty clear.”