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5G in logistics: network slicing and collaborative supply chains

A lot has been said about 5G in the supply chain. The technology is still in its early stages of development and there needs to be greater understanding on how it could benefit the industry. The time has come for organisations to take a serious look at their operations and the enhancements 5G could bring.

‘There is still a way to go before service providers have the full capabilities to operate a 5G network,’ says Andrew Stevens, Sr Director Analyst at Gartner for The Logistics Point.

However, companies need to start researching how 5G will transform the supply chain now and be ready to implement future development.

Collaborative supply chain For 5G to bring real change to the sector supply chain managers will have to expand their understanding of cooperation and perhaps bypass traditional ways of working with IT teams and organisations.

‘5G is not just another upgrade to the network but a major enhancement,’ Stevens continues. ‘Particularly in terms of provision and how you can do multiple data transactions.’ Every aspect of the supply chain will be affected by the move to 5G but those that are focused on processing, transmitting and distributing data are expected to see the biggest change.

Regulations are important for the development of a good network but …………..

according to Stevens the first steps need to be done by operation managers who have the knowledge and insights of the sector. Communication service providers also need to join discussions as they are the ones who could facilitate the move to 5G. Stevens adds that the technology is a new area for everyone and the level of cooperation will determine how successful implementation is.

"Each partner will be dynamically learning about specific requirements and risks,’ Garner’s expert explains."

Developing networks It is still early to look at conclusive data but the industry has started many trials and companies are interested. Countries are still auctioning their 5G spectrums for networks. There needs to be a period of transition …….

whilst networks are built and projects finalised. ‘5G has a transformative power but it will be only realised when the foundations are established,’ Stevens explains.

Multiple areas in the supply chain could be influenced by the implementation of 5G and this could lead to some level of early fragmentation. Stevens doesn’t think it could be a problem. The technology doesn’t have to be an end-to-end application and companies might have local 5G systems that cover a certain area of their operations.

Smaller and agile robotics’ networks might be the answer for some. For others having a rapid response system with decision making and an analytics control system would be a better use.

Network Slicing Network slicing allows supply chain leaders, ideally working with communication service providers, to dedicate part of their networks to a specific customer, systems and devices. ..

Strategic framework

5G might not be suitable for every part of the supply chain but will be implemented in a more strategic framework. Firms could look at how it could optimise efficiency in a manufacturing environment or with robots. It might also find a use in enhancing the user experience with chat bots or other customer centric applications. It is good to look at 5G in conjunction with other technologies where it could develop what is

This would make possible for 5G solutions to be implemented to parts of the system where it is needed and will have the biggest impact.

On the outside these virtual environments might appear fragmented but they are still interconnected. ‘There are many ways to slice the implementation of 5G even in a single organisation,’ Stevens adds. ‘Opportunities for 5G have been created also because of the coronavirus pandemic as companies are looking at what end-to-end actually means.

Enabler Stevens sees the technology as an enabler across multiple different areas. He pays a lot of attention to bandwidth which is going to be of increasing importance for supply chains.

For Gartner there are three core areas where the technology will have a great impact: manufacturing, logistics and transportation, as well as healthcare. In healthcare having the ability to manage critical applications rapidly is of great importance. According to the expert this role could be taken by 5G. ✷

Andrew Stevens

Andrew Anthony Stevens is a Research Director within Gartner's Supply Chain Technology group.Mr. Stevens works with global brand companies, service integrators, technical specialists and technology solutions providers across all industry verticals (as well as researching emerging industry verticals) to help map out strategy, communications, planning and execution across a broad range of supply chain initiatives and objectives relating to existing, new and emerging technologies.