by Emily Newton

The global rollout of 5G, the successor to the fourth generation of telecommunications network technology, is already having a major impact on industry.

The improved speeds and reliability that the 5G network can offer help make IoT and other internet-heavy industrial applications much more practical than they could be with 4G alone.

While the technology can provide serious benefits over other options, performance testing new 5G applications will likely be just as essential. Effective testing strategies will be necessary for the designers of new, 5G-compatible IIoT devices.

How 5G Is Enabling New Industry 4.0 Technology

The high speeds, improved connection strengths, and new technology, like massive MIMO, offered by 5G make it a highly effective option for connecting large industrial IoT fleets to the internet.

Combined with other networking strategies, like Wi-Fi and wired connections, 5G provides a great deal of flexibility to factory managers wanting to implement IoT technology.

These IoT fleets can include sensors that enable remote operational monitoring, components for remote access or control of machinery, and new robotics. These robots are sometimes called cobots, and they can work in close proximity with human workers and manage tasks like machine tending. Or they may be autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), which are self-piloting robots that use AI algorithms to perform repetitive but difficult-to-automate factory and warehouse tasks, like inventory picking.

Typically, the devices in these fleets need a continuous connection to the internet, and hundreds of devices or more could all be located in roughly the same area, meaning they’ll all be served by the same cell tower or towers.

Why Testing Industrial 5G Applications Will Be Essential

The differences between 5G and 4G, along with changing industrial equipment, could have serious implications for how IoT devices perform when using a 5G network. Path loss, shadowing from environmental obstacles, and fast fading from multipath propagation can all impact signal propagation, for example.

The clustering of large numbers of IoT devices — enabled by 5G — can generate signal noise that may make connections less reliable. Thermal noise and broadband noise generated by industrial infrastructure like power supply lines may also impact the signal strength.

In some cases, 5G-compatible components may require entirely different testing strategies. Highly integrated packages of components like mmWave antennas and radio frequency integrated circuits (RFICs) may not be testable with methods like wired testing, making over-the-air (OTA) testingeven more important.

OTA testing was already necessary for some 4G devices, due to the introduction of massive MIMO technology. With 5G, the antenna array is even more crucial for device performance and can have a major impact on the function of device transceivers.

At the same time, businesses are facing new cybersecurity challenges. The decentralized network that 5G enables can also make devices on the network’s edge more vulnerable to attack. Protection of data as it moves from device to device will become more important.

The testing of components like Wi-Fi transceivers will remain critical. Some features that are becoming increasingly essential for device components, like encryption and performance in noisy environments, will need to be tested before components are put into circulation.

Because industrial IoT devices are often exposed to harsh conditions, like extreme temperatures, stress-testing component design will also be important.

Potential Testing Strategies for 5G and IIoT

Technicians developing new IIoT devices and planning IIoT applications will need to develop solutions capable of instantly testing radiofrequency performance and troubleshooting the root causes of poor RF performance.

Performance testing will help ensure 5G-compatible IoT devices and components can function under expected operating conditions. These tests will prove 5G components can execute particular tasks or perform certain services in real-world operating scenarios.

Testing strategies, like the universal testing system developed by the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA), can provide guidance for how performance testing can be carried out.

With the right components, IoT device or implementation engineers could ensure testing parameters are consistent across all tests in a given test case, as well as controlled for all test cases in a test group. This ensures that measurement parameters can be recorded with some level of confidence in the reliability and consistency of measured results.

In the 5G-ACIA system, three components are used for testing. Passive environmental baseline parameters are reproduced by the testing system’s radio channel. Application-related parameters are provided by a distributed automation system, and active environmental parameters are produced by an interference source. These three components can be physical or emulated by the testing system.

With this combination of testing components, it’s possible to test a variety of desired functions in a range of environmental conditions.

How Testing Will Be Necessary for Effective 5G Implementation

5G offers a number of major advantages for the industrial sector, including faster speeds and improved connectivity for large IoT fleets. The upgrades that 5G provides, however, will also require a different approach to testing.

As the rollout of 5G continues and the use of industrial IoT grows, developers of IoT devices will need to prioritize testing to ensure their devices can handle operations in industrial environments.