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Industrial 5G Uncovered: what you missed at our latest webinar

Posted 15 Mar 2022

Industrial 5G Uncovered: Accelerating adoption and future opportunities

On March 10, Digital Catapult hosted an online event to explore the future path for industrial 5G in the UK.

Hosted by Linda Ligios, Senior Innovation Partner, Digital Catapult, this event was the final webinar in a four-part series that examined the ways in which 5G could advance digitalisation to improve productivity in the manufacturing and logistics sectors – as well as how the UK Government, technology innovators, network providers and industry can work together to drive 5G adoption and overcome early operational problems.

The webinar explored next steps for the journey towards widespread 5G adoption, with an overview of the opportunities arising from new government funding streams and the telecom supply chain diversification programme, SONIC Labs.

In his opening speech, Juergen Maier – Chair, Digital Catapult and Co-Chair, Made Smarter, provided insight on the next steps for industry, as well as the role that 5G has to play in ensuring the next wave of industrial efficiency.

Use cases, such as optimised machine use and better energy savings have been developed in near-real-life environments through testbeds and  trials, but what lessons have we learned? What joint private sector and government initiatives, like Made Smarter, are required to help the industry accelerate its journey?


Can Open RAN provide new 5G opportunities in industrial settings? 


Paul Ceely, Director of Technology Strategy at Digital Catapult, led a panel discussion to explore Open RAN. The panel discussed creating an environment in which a more diverse set of suppliers could provide solutions and support the adoption of 5G, along with the challenges that may arise.


Panellists included:

  • Mick Goulding, Head of Commercial at Cellnex
  • Steph Leaver, Manufacturing Technology Development Engineer at BAE Systems
  • Abel Mayal, Vice President of 5G Technology and Marketing at Airspan 
  • Ray Nwanze, IT Project Manager at BAM Nuttall Ltd

Key points from the discussion included:  


  • Strong players are emerging in the ecosystem – Dell, HP, and Cisco are showing interest in this market, along with hyperscalers such as Amazon or Microsoft. New players bring new ideas and cutting-edge technology, which speeds up innovation.
  • For innovation to flourish, competition is necessary. While a few key players have dominated traditional cellular networks and existing 5G provisions, the move to Open RAN will open the field to smaller companies, encouraging innovation and supply chain diversity.
  • In the civil engineering and construction space, 5G has the potential to reduce the volume of physical infrastructure on sites and facilitate connected or autonomous plants, along with augmented and virtual reality solutions. 
  • Early adopters of 5G face challenges in obtaining compatible devices, as the technology and ecosystem are still at a low level of maturity. 
  • Open RAN can extend the ecosystem to provide more innovation and scalability, with flexibility in deployment and integration with existing technical and operational systems.
  • It is important for us to understand what an end-to-end solution looks like and communicate this to senior stakeholders to give them confidence that the solution is right for their business and industry as a whole. This is an important step in moving technology from proof of concept to phase two: business as usual. 

What can be done to speed up 5G technology adoption in manufacturing and logistics?


A second panel discussion, led by Dritan Kaleshi, Director of Technology 5G at Digital Catapult, focused on the steps needed to speed up the adoption of 5G and position the technology at the heart of tomorrow’s digital innovation.


Panellists included:

  • Nina Gryf, Senior Policy Manager at MakeUK
  • Sophie James, Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy at TechUK
  • Mohammad Lari, Cross-Government and International Coordination Lead at DCMS
  • Nikesh Mistry, Sector Head – Industrial Automation at GAMBICA

 Key points from the discussion included: 

  • There are many concerns that some may have around 5G, including costs, security concerns, legacy systems and access to technology, skills and knowledge. The opportunity is there, but awareness is needed amongst industry to overcome these barriers. 
  • The market is moving at pace. While the pandemic was devastating in many ways for business, it has acted as an accelerator for digital technologies. 
  • 5G adoption is much higher throughout the Midlands and the North, where SMEs have engaged with the Made Smarter Technology Adoption pilot.
  • From a policy perspective, to strengthen the UK’s position as a global science and technology superpower, more innovation is needed in the manufacturing and logistics sector, which 5G can enable.
  • Connectivity is not a primary concern for many manufacturers and distributors and does not form part of their digital transformation roadmap. However, 5G can enable other technologies and help to  solve many other productivity related challenges that the industry would like to implement to increase output, improve sustainability or reduce costs and emissions. 

[discussion points cont.]

  • One of the biggest challenges that manufacturers face is that they already have a significant amount of equipment on the factory floor, and do not plan to make significant changes in the short term. Instead they tend to repair machines to last longer.
  • 5G is gaining traction in terms of  improving the workplace, worker safety and operational effectiveness using augmented reality, coupled with digital twin operations. The benefits spill over into upskilling employees, who go from executing operations to wider systems or implementation thinking.
  • The manufacturing sector is diverse and the majority of businesses are SMEs. Some of them are fast, agile and innovative companies that large global leaders can learn from, but others lag behind and need to know how to overcome barriers such as access to finance, skills and knowledge. 
  • More than half of manufacturers believe that digital technologies can positively impact business. Over a third understand that cost reductions, while improving raw materials and waste efficiency, can help establish a greener business model, decarbonise processes and reduce emissions.


The two-hour webinar also included details on:


  • Opportunities arising from new UK Government and European funding streams.
  • SONIC Labs, run by Digital Catapult with support from Ofcom, funded by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) to accelerate the adoption of Open RAN technology. For more information about SONIC Labs, please email [email protected]
  • The Industrial Energy Transformation Fund (IETF), which supports industrial sites with high energy use to transition to a low carbon future.


About the programme


Digital Catapult is the technical and innovation centre of excellence for the Industrial 5G Testbeds and Trials programme, helping to support the range of projects across the portfolio on behalf of the UK Government’s Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS).


Digital Catapult will be exhibiting at the UK’s 5G Showcase Event, a two-day conference and exhibition in Birmingham on 22nd and 23rd March 2022, an in-person event showcasing achievements from the UK Government’s coordinated 5G programme.