How enterprises can exploit the exposure capabilities of private 5G network

Integrating a 5G private network with industrial Operational Technology (OT) and IT systems is essential to be able to efficiently use 5G for production and process automation, process visualization, human-machine interactions, inbound logistics, warehousing – and many other industrial operations. Efforts are underway to define network APIs that expose crucial 5G capabilities for enhancing enterprises’ operational processes. Find out more about the industry’s progress, here.

The digitalization of industry verticals creates a large demand for private 5G industrial IoT networks, also known as non-public networks (NPN). These 5G networks will in most cases be offered as a service by communication service providers to enterprises, or will be managed by service providers on behalf of enterprises. Alternatively, some large enterprises may take on the responsibility of operating a standalone 5G network themselves.

No matter what deployment and operations model is applied, enterprises need to integrate a private 5G network into their existing IT systems, industrial IoT platforms and control systems in a similar way as they do currently with wired network infrastructure. That integration is necessary in order to operate both the 5G network and the connected 5G devices in the most efficient manner – and that efficiency must be ensured, especially with the number of industrial 5G devices and their functional diversity. Enterprises expect to be able to use 5G networks and devices with generic IT skills, without intimate cellular competence.

A simplified exposure interface for industrial IoT capabilities  

In order to meet these expectations, 5G networks have to offer an industrial IoT exposure interface that is significantly simpler to use than today’s service-provider-oriented exposure interfaces that require intimate knowledge of cellular systems. The interface must offer the right abstraction level that allows factory operators to execute their regular operational tasks with no dedicated support from the service provider.

The industrial IoT exposure interface allows service providers to offer private 5G systems primarily to enterprises in production and assembly automation, process automation and production logistics, supporting use cases with a wide range of latency, reliability and bandwidth demands. The ongoing specification work in 3GPP is targeting a generic approach so that also other industrial vertical domains can use the exposed capabilities; such as automotive, rail-bound mass transit, electric power distribution, central power generation, health care, smart cities, etc.

Enterprises not only need to execute the regular operations and assure life cycle management of devices effectively, they also have high security demands. Security, privacy and especially reliability are vital concerns, as all operations on devices and networks have an immediate effect on the production processes and ultimately on the enterprise’s efficiency. The OT security architecture as defined in, for example, IEC 62443, needs to be supported by the 5G exposure interface. Service providers can integrate their private 5G networks into existing security zones which respect existing conduits. Multi-tenancy and data privacy must be ensured at all times.

5G capabilities exposure interface for device and network management

A newly published white paper by 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) lists the most important operational use cases that have to be supported by the 5G exposure interface. Ericsson has been instrumental in achieving industry-wide consensus. The white paper covers device-centric use cases that comprise device provisioning and onboarding, connectivity management as well as QoS monitoring and supervision. In addition to these device centric operations, the performance of private 5G networks is of vital importance to enterprises, who need to have a transparent view on, for example, the usage level of installed network resources, but also to be able to change network configurations. The network configuration operational use cases in particular must be supported by the exposure interface with a strict multi-tenancy and security architecture. In the following figure the reference points that expose the 5G capabilities are depicted, for example between the device in the OT domain and the industrial IoT application in the IT domain, or between the 5G NPN and the industrial IoT application in the IT domain. A device in this context is assumed to consist of the following components:

1) user equipment (UE) providing the connectivity function

2) sensors/actuators (S/A) or controllers/managers (C/M) either integrated into the device, or connected to an input-output gateway (IO-GW) device type

3) a local industrial IoT application function

4) a compute and store platform on which the industrial IoT application is deployed


Standardization of exposure interfaces of 5G capabilities

Standardization of the exposure interface is essential for industry-wide adoption. 3GPP has already taken on the task of defining APIs to address requirements that are common to a variety of vertical applications. 3GPP in Release 16 has defined a set of enablers to expose capabilities for device-centric functions such as management of identities, security keys, network resources, groups, location information, etc. These enablers, called collectively Service Enablers for Application Layer (SEAL), can be used as a foundation for industrial IoT applications. Further technical studies are underway in 3GPP Release 17 to address additional use cases to support industrial IoT. One of these studies specifically explores ‘Factory of the Future’ use cases.

Ericsson is implementing with partners the exposure interfaces of 5G capabilities

Leveraging its Private Networks offerings, Ericsson has created the world’s first design of the industrial IoT exposure interface implemented on a cloud core exposure server. The exposure interface framework was developed by the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA). Partners in this 5G-ACIA work include a number of operational technology companies such as ABB, Siemens and Volkswagen as well as leading service providers, such as China Mobile, Deutsche Telekom, DoCoMo, Orange, Verizon and Vodafone.

With this innovative implementation, both service providers and enterprises can get access to the 5G industrial IoT exposure layer that substantially reduces the barriers of 5G adoption for enterprises in a wide range of industry verticals. This also enables service providers to move up in the industrial communications value chain. The implementation of the exposure interface proves the drastically simplified system integration of industrial 5G devices. It provides an example for the automated provisioning and onboarding of an industrial device, such as a controller of a robotic arm, and the dynamic allocation of the required network resources to perform the intended production tasks.

Related links

Ericsson Cloud Core Exposure Server

Exposure of 5G Capabilities for Connected Industries and Automation Applications, 5G-ACIA white paper, June 2020

Ericsson Private Networks for industries 

Ericsson Industry 4.0 Solutions

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