Remote Control in Construction Made Possible by 5G

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3Q 2017 | IN-4657

5G brings many promises. Edge computing in 5G radio access network (RAN) architecture enables remote control and localized processing. ABI Research looks at NEC’s trial in remote control construction and discusses the potential of construction processes as a 5G use case.

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Remote Control in Construction


In May 2017, NEC announced a trial of remote construction technologies. The trial was conducted with KDDI, Japan’s second-largest telco, and Obayashi, one of the top five construction companies. In this trial, construction machinery equipped with a 4K camera was remote controlled to perform construction processes.

Both the 4K video stream and the remote-control system are based on 5G wireless infrastructure. A 28 GHz spectrum band and beamforming technology are used to transmit large data throughput, while edge computing enables low latency and localized processing.

NEC's Hardware and Software Play in Edge Computing


This development casts new light on 5G use cases. New spectrum bands will be introduced under 5G, and almost all of them are capable of carrying a much higher capacity as compared to the current commercial bands in LTE. New RAN architecture, through cloud RAN and mobile edge computing, ensures localized processing, self-sustaining operation, and context awareness. In the case of the construction industry, the combination of large data throughput and low latency enable construction companies to attempt remotely controlled, or in some cases, fully autonomous construction processes.

Aside from network equipment, NEC is looking to introduce vertical-specific software solutions. Launched in September 2016, NEC the WISE Internet of Things (IoT) Platform, which is based on GE’s Predix platform, incorporates artificial intelligence (AI), Big Data analytics, cloud, cybersecurity, and software-defined networking. This IoT platform will enable its users to make better decisions from construction processes to supply chain management, based on the deployment of a virtual edge network. In short, NEC is banking on 5G to incorporate both its hardware and software expertise and to deliver values to other verticals. 

Construction Sector Is Ready for 5G


At the same time, the construction industry is also looking to introduce smart peripherals for its workers. According to an ABI Research Insight published last month, U.S.-based Triax Technologies launched a spot-r wearable sensor, which clips onto a construction worker’s belt and is powered by a closed mesh network that is powerful enough to go through concrete and steel. The key purpose of spot-r is to improve safety performance and personnel well-being on construction sites.

Similar trends have been noticed by ABI Research in the mining sector. A pioneer in private LTE and autonomous vehicles, the mining sector—especially the top 50 mining companies—has been shifting toward remote control and autonomous operation to enable safety operation. In ABI Research’s report on private networks for the mining industry, mining companies are actively deploying autonomous haulage trucks and trains on private LTE networks, as well as smart wearables on Wi-Fi mesh technology.

Mining and construction sectors were both traditionally labor-intensive, with high hazards and a small margin of error. Long and arduous working processes have prompted mining and construction companies to seek alternatives. Both industries are also trying to improve their profit margin and optimize their cost through better analytics and management. ABI Research believes that 5G will play a huge role in these two industries. Given that 5G is a standardized wireless protocol, end users can benefit from economies of scale by using 5G hardware and software instead of costly proprietary and customized solutions.

In addition, unlike mining sites, which are normally located in uninhabited regions that have poor or zero commercial network coverage, construction sites are usually located in urban or suburbs areas. This means construction companies do not need to rely on the deployment of a private 5G network, and telcos can provide a much better on-site service quality. It was reported that, having recognized the huge business potential of 5G, KDDI and its two major competitors, NTT DoCoMo and SoftBank, would invest more than US$46 billion (¥5 trillion) in 5G technology by 2023, with 5G coverage being made available in “key regions across Japan.” Remote-controlled processes also mean fewer workers on construction sites, a scenario that may be appealing to many developed markets, such as Australia and Singapore, which are also early adopters of 5G.


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