James Wenzel is the CTO at NCAB Group Flatfield.

3 December 2020

All providers are about to introduce their 5G infrastructure. This super-fast network opens up a wealth of new possibilities, which all need electronic device support. More and more, NCAB’s James Wenzel sees electronic assemblies being built into applications that were never connected before.

When the world wide web was introduced in the early nineties, the only device connected was a single personal computer. It took ten years before a couple of billion PCs were talking to each other over the internet. Still, communication and data entry were wholly dependent on human beings. It took another ten years before the Internet of Things (IoT) evolved into a system using multiple technologies, ranging from the internet to wireless communication and from microelectromechanical systems to embedded systems.

The traditional fields of automation, wireless sensor networks, GPS, control systems and others all support the IoT. A key improvement was the switch to IPv6 as the address limitations of previous internet protocols would have certainly blocked development. With IPv6, an almost unlimited amount of devices can be connected without any interference in the machine-to-machine communication. The “smart device” was born and it became quickly and quietly an important tool in our social and business environment.

IoT devices can now not only connect to regular 2G and 3G networks but also to Lorawan and LTE (4G). The various network characteristics define which option is best suited for the application. A gold transport truck, for example, requires real-time tracking for security, so LTE would be the network of choice. A GPS tracker on a sea container, on the other hand, only needs to provide its location once a day, so a connection to a Lorawan network would suffice. Another nice Lorawan example is the tracking of black rhinos in the Liwondo National Parks in Malawi.

A new era

The introduction of 5G opens up a completely new package of possibilities. Thanks to the low network latency, reliable real-time monitoring and control become feasible. Within milliseconds, the device that sent measurement data to the network receives instructions on what to do. At NCAB Group, we work very closely with several OEMs and EMS companies that provide the electronics for IoT devices. Delivering the PCBs for these devices, we’ve noticed a steady growth in 5G applications.

In the automotive industry, ultra-reliable low-latency communication could support self-steering and accident-avoiding systems but also real-time traffic control. Tests of 5G-based speed regulation have proven to be very successful, reducing the number of traffic jams. Thanks to the real-time interaction between the various devices used in traffic control connected to the multimedia systems in the car, we’re on the eve of a new era.

Likewise, we see the rise of smart agriculture solutions and smart medical monitoring, where patients outside the hospital receive feedback on the medicine they’ve taken, as well as more and more 5G-based industrial IoT applications, eg for managing power distributions networks and harbor automation. Take a smart electricity grid with a highly variable energy production output, from sources including windmills and solar fields, which calls for real-time control and automation of the feeder line system. All these applications require ultra-reliable low-latency communication.

Edited by Nieke Roos