Nokia says it has launched Europe’s largest private industrial 5G network at its Alcatel Submarine Networks (ASN) factory in Calais, France. The French government financed the project through its Recovery Plan and the Future Investment Program.
ASN makes submarine cables for communication service providers, public cloud providers and others who want to connect infrastructure across oceans. Christophe Bejina, ASN Group’s chief information officer, said Meta is currently ASN’s largest customer.
Tom Richter, head of Nokia’s manufacturing business, highlighted the importance of quality control in the production of undersea cables, since repairing them after deployment is prohibitively expensive. He said the 5G network will eventually provide low latency data transfer to support real-time quality control during the manufacturing process.
Currently, the network is providing round-trip data transfers in less than 10 milliseconds, Richter said. Bejina added that the goal is to reach latencies below 5 milliseconds.
“In a normal public 5G network you’d see 10, 20 milliseconds, and that would be too long for us,” Bejina said. “Below 10 milliseconds is acceptable for the time being. You go to [private] 5G because there is a roadmap.”
ASN’s private 5G network is meant to transmit data only. For now, ASN uses the network to connect Zebra industrial grade tablets, which workers use to see documents during production. “It is not necessary to have a 5G network for this,” said Richter. “When you start to deal with real-time data, it is mission critical, and for this you would need a 5G network.”
Bejina said the security provided by SIM cards with encrypted data is another reason ASN wanted a 5G network. “Nothing else but a 5G network will bring you this security,” he said.
The private 5G network covers 55,000 square meters, including 11 buildings, a deck, and an underground tunnel through which the cable is routed to go from the factory and storage tanks to vessels. Fifty-five Nokia remote radio heads are deployed indoors, and two are deployed outdoors. “Anyone can be connected anywhere, at any place, or on any floor of the factory,” said Bejina.
The Nokia network core is deployed at a small dedicated data center near the factory. Bejina said ASN has a sovereign cloud data center in France, but wanted the network core closer to the Calais factory to reduce latencies.
The dedicated data center also hosts edge compute infrastructure used to interface with software ASN uses for manufacturing. Richter said ASN uses a suite of software provided by PTC, including ThingWorx and other tools which support training and maintenance. He said ASN has already been able to implement the use of digital glasses for equipment maintenance.
Richter said the private 5G network also interfaces with SAP’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) software, which it connects to “through a classical IT system.”
French operator Iliad provided the 3.5 GHz spectrum for the private network, and Iliad subsidiary Free Pro deployed the network infrastructure, and provides ongoing network services. Iliad provisions all SIM cards for the Zebra tablets. Richter said the network can support eSIM devices, but all devices use physical SIMs for now.
Iliad also operates a private 5G network for ASN in the UK, using spectrum purchased from British regulator Ofcom. Like the Calais network, ASN’s private 5G network in Greenwich is controlled by a small dedicated data center.
Currently, the two private networks are not connected to one another, but Bejina said that could be coming. “We could organize gateways to extend [the networks],” he said. “This is a feature that we will consider very strongly.”
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