We talk about the technologies adding value to your supply chain operations. The software, hardware, and integrations that help businesses overcome today’s challenges and provide a foundation for the supply chain of the future. But, we need to place equal emphasis on what connects the endpoints and systems that move inventory from bays to doorsteps. Today’s operations are all about data. Speed, reliability, latency (more specifically, the lack thereof), resiliency, and coverage are critical factors in planning and designing warehouses, transportation networks, and the machines running day-to-day operations.
Without going deep into details, 5G connectivity will provide at least ten times faster data transfer compared to 4G cellular networks (with some reports showing far greater speeds than that). Whereas today IT departments break their backs building complex network strategies and choosing between high speeds and resilience, 5G will let IT have their cake and eat it too. No latency, and exponentially faster speeds that allow for resiliency without compromise. It’s incredible stuff.
Although it’s early days, the potential of 5G begs discussion. As coverage expands every day into urban and rural regions, it’s a great time to think about how tomorrow’s fulfillment operations will be shaped by this growing standard.
Many supply chains already lean on cloud-based systems for the upsides of scalability, security, redundancy, and outsourced system management. These capabilities appeal to many as components of highly resilient infrastructure. In short, cloud offers the operational ability to take a beating and keep on ticking. However, in applications requiring real-time data and zero latency, businesses are pushed towards wired systems.
Although some need it, wired connectivity has its foibles. (If you ever had your Internet go out due to a little road construction and an errant jackhammer like me you know what I’m talking about.) 5G nullifies latency. Plus, it’s immune to jackhammers.
As the availability and economics of 5G become more attractive, we’ll see confidence rise in the cloud. When wireless latency meets the capabilities of wired, more businesses can implement cloud across the supply chain. This will fundamentally change how businesses design their operations, build technology stacks, and manage their systems.
We see 4G regularly in popup distribution centers (DCs). But, businesses question the 4G under these conditions. Data-intensive workflows, “lightweight” automation or robotics brought into popup DCs, and orders hitting the system can push wireless networks to the max. Some businesses implement workarounds under these constraints, introducing operational limitations that impact fulfillment and productivity.
If the primary purpose of a popup DC is to expand distribution capabilities, network performance needs to be seamless and highly resilient. Imagine the applications of hardline speeds, stout resilience, and overall reliability delivered wirelessly to these sites. With 5G, popup DCs will likely benefit from greater speed-to-market as well as flexibility and options for DC configurations and capabilities. In other words, businesses will be able to do more strategically to drive additional value out of popup DCs, and in a shorter timeframe.
IoT and Transportation
As automation and the Internet of Things (IoT) continue to grow, system-to-system communication will become increasingly important. Machines aren’t only transferring data back to databases. Often, they’re communicating with each other to optimize and solve problems in real-time.
Event management of in-transit goods offers a great example of 5G’s value. Specifically, inventory disposition, location, and re-routing all perform smoother and faster through 5G—allowing businesses to make critical decisions in real-time and providing deeper inventory visibility than what’s currently possible. Some are talking about 5G as the standard that will enable driverless vehicles.
5G also appears poised to benefit drones and other “floating” approaches to traditional infrastructure extensions. As density and latency become less of an issue, drone-based delivery and sensor connectivity (using drones to monitor field sensors) could further reduce the impact of the labor shortages many face today. Drones could also extend infrastructure to areas that have historically been cost-prohibitive. This is particularly interesting when you consider how the real-time nature of transportation visibility has historically been limited by wireless infrastructures and quality coverage in rural areas.
When data becomes more easily accessible, options open up in the supply chain. Going back to IoT and transportation, leveraging the data delivered over 5G allows small and large businesses to consider new planning algorithms and leverage true real-time data for decision making. The strength of a 5G network matures demand sensing, making data more relevant, trustworthy, and potentially more actionable.
Wave of the Future
5G isn’t a cure-all. It’s a critical component in the communications infrastructure empowering tomorrow’s technologies and helping us beam up into the next phase of supply chain management. It will be a stronger standard in an increasingly connected and intelligent world. Through 5G, driverless cars, robots, and drones can become the norm—empowering businesses to think differently and achieve new levels of execution that our current infrastructure can’t support reliably. The future requires better data access and more effective and trustworthy communications, and 5G will be the lifeblood of these solutions.
Sean Elliott serves as Chief Technology Officer for HighJump. A 15-year technology veteran, Elliott has been the principal architect of the HighJump One platform and the technological convergence strategy at HighJump. Earlier in his career, Elliott served within the architecture group at Infor, where he focused on distribution-centric supply chain. He has a passion for bringing leading edge mobility technologies to the supply chain, and enhancing end-user experience within the HighJump customer community.