by Lauren DeLorenzo, Journalist, Infrastructure magazine

With the impacts of COVID-19 wreaking havoc on Australia’s freight transport and logistics sector, customers are waiting longer to receive orders, experiencing purchasing limits for essential goods, and staring down empty grocery store shelves. Here, Infrastructure spoke with Australian Mobile Telecommunications Association (AMTA) CEO, Louise Hyland, to discuss five opportunities that 5G presents to streamline processes and alleviate pressure on the industry.

With data transmission rates approximately 100 times faster than 4G networks, 5G can provide a significant boost to freight operations. AMTA CEO, Louise Hyland, said the pandemic has exacerbated demand for a fast and reliable connection.

“To meet this demand, some providers fast tracked their investment towards the 5G rollout,” Ms Hyland said. “As 5G becomes more and more available, the technology will address consumer expectations of the industry by meeting shorter timeframes, more specific forecasting and greater transparency around the status of goods being transported.”

ATMA’s Infrastructure Readiness Assessment report encourages governments to review policies to ensure the country is ready to deploy
5G infrastructure. “With the continued rollout of 5G across the country and the world, the transport and logistics industry will rapidly change over the next decade and into the future,” Ms Hyland said.

“It will not only become more efficient and reliable, but it also has the opportunity to become more profitable, with less human error, mismanagement and inefficiencies.

“It is increasingly important that state and territory planning policy makers recognise the essential nature of telecommunications services and the rapidly-evolving dynamic requirements for network deployment and upgrade.

“Otherwise, Australia’s networks will fall behind and hinder economic growth and social connectivity.” With the pandemic driving interest
in increased automation and future technologies, here are five ways that 5G infrastructure will help drive the industry forward.

1. Automated vehicles

Freight transport can be made more efficient with automated vehicles, such as cars, trucks, trains and drones. These vehicles are safer and more efficient when underpinned by a fast and reliable 5G network.

“5G will improve the reliability of last-kilometre travel – the last leg of a product or passenger’s journey – and so-called ‘vehicle-to-
everything communication’, including communication between vehicles and the traffic system, across both commercial and public systems,” Ms Hyland said.

Trials of 5G communication links to automated cargo vehicles are already underway in Australia, with logistics operator Qube connecting vehicles at Moorebank Logistics Park to the fleet management and safety system.

2. Smart factories and warehouses

Ms Hyland said the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the value to be gained through greater automation in smart factories and warehouses. “5G’s high capacity will enable real-time insights that will facilitate greater automation in areas like multiple assembly lines, and allow machines and assets to connect through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) so operations can be monitored and optimised,” Ms Hyland said.

Assembly lines could also be augmented by using 5G-powered AI to create predictive planning, increasing efficiency for warehouse inventory management and just-in-time delivery.

A trial program in Germany, conducted by DHL, uses a system with 5G-enabled IoT technologies to build a real-time map of operations, so they can create custom solutions to solve inefficiencies.

Ericsson’s smart factories in Sweden, Estonia and China currently use 5G and IIoT systems to connect almost every factory asset to a single system, streamlining processes and increasing efficiency.

3. VR and AR support

As the transport and logistics sector looks to integrate Virtual Reality (VR) and Augmented Reality (AR) to improve operations, 5G is able to support its future use with faster speeds.

VR and AR technologies can be used to train employees in safe, controlled environments, without disrupting real operations. “Through 5G, AR applications like ‘vision picking’ – which involves displaying order information to warehouse staff through head-mounted displays – will be enhanced, impacting productivity for the better,” Ms Hyland said.

“Machine and vehicle maintenance will also become more efficient, with offsite technicians able to assist workers using AR headsets to monitor the status of their fleet in real time.”

With an advanced 5G network in operation, future VR and AR technologies in development, such as Microsoft’s Mesh, could be more easily accessible and available to the industry.

4. Connected robots

Robots are making tasks easier across the supply chain, and 5G’s high capacity and speed enables them to make processes significantly more efficient. Ms Hyland said that robots “will help workers with housing operations and enhance safety by reducing the need for people to physically carry out injury-risking or challenging tasks, like repetitive lifting”.

Autonomous robots are already in use for Swedish telecommunications company, Ericsson, which has trialled a 5G-enabled mobile robot, which patrolled the perimeter of Hans Christian Andersen Airport in Denmark.

The robot demonstrated that boundary-fencing checks at a range of critical locations, such as ports and construction sites, can be conducted with autonomous technology.

5. Goods tracking

With 5G-supported technology, goods tracking will become more accurate and reliable. 5G allows the location of goods to be monitored in real time, allowing for continuous condition assessment.

“The billions of connections that will be supported through 5G means that trackers will make a difference in improving the tracking of the location and condition of goods in real time throughout every aspect of a supply chain, making delivery more efficient and resilient,” Ms Hyland said.

“This will allow transport and logistics companies to provide accurate real-time updates on delivery progress at any time, not just at a few key checkpoints, while also mitigating problems like delivery delays or cold storage faults.”

Internet of Things (IoT) technology is already being used by Peloris Global Sourcing to monitor goods during transport. The technology is monitoring the temperature of milk being exported from Australia to China, ensuring compliance and allowing for faster, less disruptive travel.

“Using 5G, this technology could become more readily used across the entire industry,” Ms Hyland said.

AMTA is the peak industry organisation and voice representing Australia’s mobile telecommunications sector and operates programs covering all aspects of the mobile ecosystem such as telecommunications policy, mobile network infrastructure, radiofrequency spectrum, health and safety, product stewardship/e-waste and recycling, national security, content regulation, and consumer awareness and education.

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