Japanese kit maker NEC has pitched a new RAN optimisation solution designed to improve the performance and reliability of remote-controlled devices.

In a typical 5G network, RAN parameters are fixed for the entire network. NEC promises to change all that with some clever use of AI.

The AI is able to analyse communication requirements and radio quality fluctuations on a per-user terminal basis – these terminals being robots and automated guided vehicles (AGVs).

Based on the results of this analysis, another AI dynamically tweaks the connection for each terminal. This AI can make changes to the modulation and coding scheme, radio resource allocation, and maximum allowable delay, while simultaneously predicting latency performance.

It’s all done automatically, of course, and the result is a network that is better at maintaining a stable connection.

This could make a big difference when it comes to devices such as robots and AGVs, because the performance of their connection can fluctuate considerably as they navigate their environment, and because they’re competing with other devices over the same network resources.

This is a problem because any sufficiently large dip in performance usually results in a machine shutting down for safety reasons, impacting productivity – which is the preferred alternative to a slow-reacting robot or AGV causing damage or injuries.

“When using these technologies for remote control of robots and vehicles, two-way communication consisting of status monitoring and control instructions for each robot/vehicle must be completed within a certain period of time. However, if the communication latency exceeds the requirement, the operation is repeatedly suspended for safety reasons, resulting in a decrease in the operation rate and productivity,” explained NEC.

“The communication delays, such as retransmission delays due to poor radio quality and queuing delays due to congestion on the radio links, have been a barrier to the introduction of remote control systems.”

In simulations involving multiple autonomous robots operating in factories or warehouses, NEC said its AI-based RAN optimisation solution reduced the number of robot stoppages by 98 percent.

NEC said it plans to incorporate its new technology into its RAN intelligent controllers (RICs) with the aim of conducting demonstrations by March 2025. Its RICs conform to O-RAN Alliance standards, so its new solution should be relatively easy to install or add to an existing deployment, it said.

This was one of three announcements put out by NEC in the run-up to Mobile World Congress (MWC).

Sticking with the theme of robotics, albeit on a less telecoms-related tangent, NEC also shared some work it is doing on AI that enables robots to handle objects that have been arranged in a disorderly fashion. Today, factories and warehouses have to carefully arrange objects in a certain way to ensure correct handling by robots, making them less productive than their fleshy counterparts.

This new AI solution uses camera data to interpret the environment and predict the results of a robot’s actions. It means a robot should be able to learn about its environment and the objects within it, and how to manipulate them precisely without causing chaos.

Meanwhile, NEC has also announced a partnership with fellow kit makers Adtran, Infinera and Juniper Networks that adds new bells and whistles to its Value Added Network Solution Suite for enterprises.

These include Adtran’s AI-powered network management solutions; Infinera’s portfolio of data centre interconnect solutions; and Juniper’s AI-Native Networking Platform.

It’s all in the name of addressing the requirements of a diverse range of corporate clients undertaking their digital transformations.

“Infrastructure transformation is not easy since each business has unique objectives, requiring corresponding infrastructure adjustments. For example, businesses must determine whether to use public or hybrid clouds, or whether to utilise centralised or edge architecture,” NEC said.

“With this new enhancement for enterprise network solutions, NEC is poised to further accelerate support for digital transformation in the era beyond 5G, building on its expertise, and delivering innovative solutions and services for the unique challenges of modern businesses.”

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