5G industry
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5G, 6G: what are the challenges for new telecommunication networks?

5G and industry: is France falling behind?

Pierre-Jean Benghozi, CNRS Research Director at I³-CRG* and Professor of Digital Economics at École Polytechnique (IP Paris) and the University of Geneva and David Glijer, Director of Digital Transformation at ArcelorMittal
On October 18th, 2022 |
4 min reading time
Pierre-Jean Benghozi
Pierre-Jean Benghozi
CNRS Research Director at I³-CRG* and Professor of Digital Economics at École Polytechnique (IP Paris) and the University of Geneva
David Glijer
David Glijer
Director of Digital Transformation at ArcelorMittal
Key takeaways
  • 5G offers higher speeds, lower lag time and the ability to connect many objects.
  • Although 5G will help to relieve the congestion on the public 4G network, it is primarily a tool for industry.
  • The first 5G factory in France is located in Dunkirk: this is ArcelorMittal's “5G Steel” project.
  • Having control of an in-house network protects against any technical problems with an external operator.
  • There are several obstacles to the development of industrial uses of 5G in France, which is delaying its implementation.

The instal­la­tion of 5G in France start­ed in 2020. This fifth gen­er­a­tion of mobile tech­nol­o­gy fol­lows on from the pre­vi­ous gen­er­a­tions. Each gen­er­a­tion fol­lows the pre­vi­ous one at the same rate of approx­i­mate­ly once every ten years and each marks a tech­no­log­i­cal evo­lu­tion: after voice (2G), text and SMS (3G), and then mobile inter­net (4G), 5G now makes it pos­si­ble to offer high­er speeds, low­er laten­cy and to con­nect many more objects. Its scope is there­fore much wider than just con­sumer use.

[Videos pro­duced in part­ner­ship with Ecole Poly­tech­nique Exec­u­tive Edu­ca­tion].

First and foremost, an industrial tool

5G will have appli­ca­tions “both in com­pa­nies and in large pub­lic spaces such as sta­tions, air­ports and sta­di­um. It will make it pos­si­ble to ensure the simul­ta­ne­ous con­nec­tion of thou­sands or even mil­lions of devices,” explains Pierre-Jean Beng­hozi, CNRS research direc­tor and pro­fes­sor at École Poly­tech­nique (IP Paris), a spe­cial­ist in dig­i­tal econ­o­my. Some peo­ple even imag­ine that it will be pos­si­ble, for exam­ple, to zoom in on the screen of one’s mobile phone from the stands at the Stade de France to see a spe­cif­ic play­er approach­ing the goal… 

While 5G will help to relieve con­ges­tion on the pub­lic 4G net­work (which is close to sat­u­ra­tion in dense­ly pop­u­lat­ed areas), it was not designed for enter­tain­ment appli­ca­tions, nor was it designed so that fans of Net­flix can down­load their episode in a thou­sandth of a sec­ond instead of one. “5G pri­mar­i­ly meets the digi­ti­sa­tion needs of Fac­to­ry 4.0,” says Pierre-Jean Beng­hozi. “Most of 5G appli­ca­tions are for indus­try.”

Pre­sent­ed as the new indus­tri­al rev­o­lu­tion (after mech­a­ni­sa­tion, mass pro­duc­tion in the 19th Cen­tu­ry and automa­tion of pro­duc­tion in the 20th Cen­tu­ry), Fac­to­ry 4.0 is char­ac­terised by inte­gra­tion of dig­i­tal tech­nolo­gies at all lev­els, right down to the man­u­fac­tur­ing process, allow­ing us to think dif­fer­ent­ly about uses. “In this fac­to­ry, the Inter­net of Things is a net­work of net­works that allows […] dig­i­tal enti­ties and phys­i­cal objects to be iden­ti­fied direct­ly so that the data relat­ing to them can be recov­ered, stored, trans­ferred and then processed, with­out any dis­con­ti­nu­ity between the phys­i­cal and vir­tu­al worlds,” con­tin­ues Pro­fes­sor Beng­hozi1. And all this is pos­si­ble thanks to elec­tron­ic iden­ti­fi­ca­tion sys­tems and wire­less mobile devices, to increas­ing­ly inter­con­nect­ed fixed and mobile ultra-high-speed con­nec­tion meth­ods, and final­ly to algo­rith­mic and data pro­cess­ing capac­i­ties that can be designed in a decen­tralised manner.

This con­tin­u­ous and instan­ta­neous com­mu­ni­ca­tion between the var­i­ous tools and work­sta­tions inte­grat­ed into the man­u­fac­tur­ing and sup­ply chains implies invest­ments and a rethink­ing of organ­i­sa­tion­al modes, but it makes it pos­si­ble to opti­mise man­u­fac­tur­ing process­es as well as ser­vice man­age­ment. In addi­tion, it pro­vides the means to improve flex­i­bil­i­ty in order to adapt to real-time demand and to bet­ter sat­is­fy indi­vid­ual cus­tomer needs.

France’s first 5G factory

Arcelor­Mit­tal’s “5G Steel” project, launched with the sup­port of the stim­u­lus plan, is a good illus­tra­tion of the new pro­duc­tion meth­ods made pos­si­ble by 5G. The glob­al steel giant has installed its own pri­vate net­work on its huge site in Dunkirk, on bands made avail­able by ARCEP (Autorité de Régu­la­tion des Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Élec­tron­iques et des Postes). Mark­ing its desire to remain Euro­pean, Arcelor­Mit­tal has cho­sen to work on this net­work with the oper­a­tor Orange and the equip­ment man­u­fac­tur­er Ericsson.

The Dunkirk site can be thought of as a small town with 3,300 employ­ees, which pro­duces 10% of the steel pro­duced by the steel group, i.e. 6–7 mil­lion tonnes per year. Here, auto­mat­ic bridges and gigan­tic cranes line the pro­duc­tion lines, which are about 2 km long and have more than 200 data sen­sors to mon­i­tor production.

“This site is open in some places, closed in oth­ers, and has many areas not cov­ered by mobile net­works,” explains David Gli­jer, tech­ni­cal direc­tor at Arcelor­Mit­tal and respon­si­ble for the pro­jec­t’s deploy­ment. “It is absolute­ly impos­si­ble to cov­er the whole site with fibre. Until now, staff spent a lot of time going back and forth between the pro­duc­tion lines and the cen­tral office to reload data.” With 5G, the net­work is avail­able through­out the site. “In addi­tion, we plan to have our large trucks (with the capac­i­ty to trans­port 120 tonnes of steel coils) move around the site (200 km of inter­nal rail tracks and sev­er­al kilo­me­tres of pri­vate roads) autonomous­ly, with­out a dri­ver, because these ship­ments are com­plex and some­times dangerous.”

Eight out­door anten­nas have been installed on this site, which is clas­si­fied as a Seveso site and has strict safe­ty stan­dards. “Safe­ty is one of our obses­sions, and we have to oper­ate 24 hours a day: by con­trol­ling our own net­work, we are pro­tect­ed from a tech­ni­cal prob­lem that might occur with an exter­nal operator.”

Indus­tri­al risk is very high if we do not make the shift to 5G.

The 5G Steel project is already oper­a­tional, but still exper­i­men­tal. “Here we are real­ly test­ing 5G in a ‘severe’ indus­tri­al envi­ron­ment, because there is a lot of dust on this site, a lot of met­al, areas of high heat… We have to check that the met­al does not inter­fere with the anten­nas and elim­i­nate any uncer­tain­ties and risks regard­ing robust­ness and safety.”

Other industries are stalling 

In Dunkirk, 5G is part of a col­lab­o­ra­tive, mul­ti-site project and will be deployed in 2023 on the Flo­r­ange and Mardy­ck sites. But in France, Arcelor­Mit­tal’s net­work is sin­gu­lar­ly iso­lat­ed. In March 2022, Philippe Her­bert’s report on the Indus­tri­al 5G Mis­sion2 not­ed sev­er­al obsta­cles to the devel­op­ment of indus­tri­al uses of this type of net­work in France, in par­tic­u­lar the prob­lem of access to fre­quen­cies, the weak­ness of the ecosys­tem around indus­tri­al 5G and the insuf­fi­cient avail­abil­i­ty of suit­able equip­ment and services. 

“Until now, in order to access 5G, a man­u­fac­tur­er has had to pay a min­i­mum of €70,000 to obtain the right to trans­mit over an area of 100 km2,” Philippe Her­bert points out in his report.  The entry tick­et is far too high to test a new tech­nol­o­gy and the trans­mis­sion area far too large if it is a mat­ter of equip­ping an indus­tri­al site of a few square kilo­me­tres. Oth­er coun­tries have cho­sen to reserve fre­quen­cies for their com­pa­nies from the out­set. This is the case in Ger­many, where more than 70 uni­ver­si­ties and com­pa­nies work­ing in the indus­tri­al, trans­port, health and media sec­tors have embarked on indus­tri­al 5G projects.

“We have to make French and Euro­pean com­pa­nies, includ­ing SMEs, under­stand that the indus­tri­al risk is very high if we do not make the shift to 5G,” says David Gli­jer. “Our com­peti­tors are in Asia, Chi­na, and Korea, where 5G is already work­ing. But it is not enough to have the net­work, you need the appli­ca­tions. It is there­fore essen­tial to attract French and Euro­pean start-ups work­ing on such appli­ca­tions in our wake. That’s why our net­work, although pri­vate, is acces­si­ble to our part­ners in the Dunkirk Urban Com­mu­ni­ty, which will allow cer­tain com­pa­nies to ben­e­fit from it.”

Marina Julienne
1L’Internet des objets de Pierre-Jean Beng­hozi, Syl­vain Bureau et Françoise Mas­sit-Fol­léa (Edi­tion MSH 2012)
2Rap­port de la « Mis­sion 5G indus­trielle », par Philippe Her­bert, prési­dent de la mis­sion, mars 2022. https://​www​.entre​pris​es​.gouv​.fr/​f​i​l​e​s​/​f​i​l​e​s​/​e​t​u​d​e​s​-​e​t​-​s​t​a​t​i​s​t​i​q​u​e​s​/​d​o​s​s​i​e​r​s​/​r​a​p​p​o​r​t​-​m​i​s​s​i​o​n​-​5​g.pdf

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