The opening of the 3.7–3.8 GHz spectrum for private 5G networks open up a wide range of opportunities for the use of 5G in the industrial sector. However, companies often lack the required expertise for in-house operation, including the know-how for sophisticated installation as well as for procurement of hardware for the radio access network (RAN) and core networks. Large parts of the 5G infrastructure currently in use are implemented as hardware, from basebands to indoor radio units and cellular antennas. At the same time, industrial production and control systems are operated exclusively on dedicated hardware systems. In sum, the use of physical hardware leads to permanent energy consumption of all units, and presents companies with the challenge of a lack of flexibility in configuration and updates, as well as high maintenance costs.
The aim of the project "CLOUD56" is therefore to enable rapid establishment of new network areas, simplified management and flexible scalability of production processes by virtualizing the RAN. Together with the project partners, the first virtualization of the Radio Access Network (CloudRAN) based on an edge cloud system is being researched. The challenges of virtualizing the RAN and industrial application hardware on a common platform will be addressed. The focus is on concrete use cases of different industries such as manufacturing, healthcare and construction:
In order to take the requirements from industry into account, the user side will be actively involved in the development. The virtualized network components and industrial applications will be operated both in the IT-Center of RWTH Aachen University and in the Fraunhofer Edge Cloud at the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT to explore scalability and integration in different IT environments. Virtualization enables the standardization of interfaces in heterogeneous IT infrastructures and the easy integration of different hardware and software components.
"CLOUD56" is expected to pave the way for a new chapter in mobile infrastructure by enabling a radical shift towards virtual entities in a 5G network factory infrastructure. In perspective, the virtualization platform also offers the potential to be used to virtualize 5G-enabled IIoT applications to develop a true cyber-physical system. Future functional extensions of the network technology with 6G functions should be easier and faster to introduce with the help of the planned architecture in "CLOUD56".
Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, Aachen
Funded by the German Federal Ministry for Digital and Transport under grant number 11-12212