In the modern era, technology has become an integral part of our daily lives. From smartphones, and laptops to smart homes, we are surrounded by a network of interconnected devices that have revolutionised the way we live and work. This is the era of Industry 4.0, where technology is driving the next industrial revolution. Ubiquitous connectivity is at the heart of Industry 4.0, enabling machines and devices to communicate with each other in real-time, leading to increased productivity, efficiency, and profitability. Electronic Specifier interviewed Joe Barry from Analog Devices to explore the impact of ubiquitous connectivity in Industry 4.0 and how it is transforming the manufacturing industry as we know it.
What is ubiquitous connectivity?
Ubiquitous connectivity is the idea that everything around us, as well as us ourselves, can be connected into one network. This idea is being rapidly driven by fast-developing new technologies such as network applications, wireless access, 5G, man-machine interactions, automation, and traceability. The constant development of wireless, 5G, broadband, and other connectivity technologies is continuously raising the bar of ubiquitous connectivity and networks. This is why ubiquitous connectivity is crucial to the future of industry as we move into the age of Industry 4.0.
For Joe Barry, Vice President of Marketing, Systems & Technology in the Communication and Cloud Business Unit at Analog Devices, ubiquitous connectivity means all this and more: “The vision of ubiquitous connectivity is that it’s a journey in terms of connectivity, as you look at the advancements of telecommunications technology, we see widespread deployment of things like 5G technology.
“But I think ubiquitous connectivity is more than just the extension of ‘more connectivity.’ It’s more about extending the connectivity into everything in terms of what we think about when it comes to industrial applications, machine to machine, human to machine, and the whole myriad of combinations.
“It’s not just about the proliferation of that connectivity, it’s doing it with intelligence and distributed intelligence throughout a network.”
This is the philosophy behind Analog Devices’ approach to ubiquitous connectivity, as well as the ultimate future meaning of the term ‘ubiquitous connectivity.’ Whilst at a base level it suggests everything will one day be connected, the underline factor is completing that task in an intelligent and effective way to maximise its potential, especially when it comes to Industry 4.0.
The benefits of ubiquitous connectivity
There are many benefits that a ubiquitous network style can bring to all sorts of applications, with one of the most crucially affected areas being the industrial sector. Increased productivity, traceability, modernisation, utilisation, and sustainability are driving reasons behind the uptick of ubiquitous connectivity.
“Bringing intelligence inside the factory and connecting in intelligent ways” is a crucial way of enabling Industry 4.0 in both the near and distant future explains Barry. “A layer of intelligence and sharing can add an extra layer of productivity and utilisation to connectivity itself,” he continues.
This type of connectivity enables the creation of “open environments and more vibrant industrial ecosystems that enables private or enterprise networks to develop a more sustainable financial model,” says Barry.
Beyond just this, Barry suggests that ubiquitous connectivity can “massively help to deploy and maintain automated networks in industrial applications” whilst also allowing “industry to scale at a viable level in terms of the cost of modernisation, sustainability, and productivity at a domestic and international level.”
Overall, ubiquitous connectivity is the answer to many questions plaguing the industrial sector today, and Industry 4.0 moving forward such as “How do I get my utilisation maximised? How do I get increased throughput? How do I make sure I’m driving high productivity in my production lines or whatever the environment?” examples Barry.
The challenges faced by ubiquitous connectivity
However, not everything surrounding ubiquitous connectivity is sunshine and rainbows, just like almost all upcoming technology and advancements, it is not insusceptible to challenges it must overcome to be successful in the future.
Barry was brutally honest about some of the biggest challenges faced by the future of the network methodology: “There’s a significant challenge around the sustainability of the networks, first and foremost.
“If we look at wireless infrastructure as a sector today, it produces just under 2% of carbon emissions globally, which is quite a significant footprint.”
This is an area that is, however, affecting almost every area of technological advancements from cars to data centres. As the world positions itself to go greener and greener, this is something that will be addressed in time with new pioneering sustainability solutions.
The other key area of concern for ubiquitous connectivity is “how to bring that connectivity at scale,” explained Barry. Both a blessing and a curse, the nature of ubiquitous connectivity means that it is, as Barry describes, a “highly diverse” topic which could in theory allow for almost everything and everyone to be connected, however, the key challenge is getting to that point in an effective, safe, and sustainable way.
The technology driving ubiquitous connectivity
Currently, the biggest developments within the ubiquitous network environment are those relating to ramping up connectivity in a sustainable way. This is what Barry builds upon, and what the Analog Devices team are focussing on. “You need quite a diverse set of radio solutions to really be able to scale from indoors, to outdoors, and wider coverage.”
Everything from “massive MIMO, macro radios, single/dual/triple band, outdoor, micro small cell, indoor, millimetre wave,” are in constant development to deliver themselves in not only an effective manner, but also one that is compact, sustainable, and efficient.
The future of ubiquitous connectivity
“I think we’ll see over the next four or five years, a very rapid transformation,” says Barry, and if current trends hold, he could very well be correct. With areas such as enhanced traceability, automation, and smart manufacturing growing at an increasing rate, it shouldn’t be long until this type of connectivity becomes the norm.
Barry expects to see a significant ramp-up in the adoption of “5G and 5G IoT capabilities and benefits,” suggesting how they will cause the “transformation of machines, widespread automation of machines, development of all different sensors, processing methods, and enhanced intelligence.”
It sure is an exciting time for ubiquitous connectivity, with the technology on the cusp of mass integration within the next decade.
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