As head of industrialization for a maker of electric boats, Elias Wästberg is used to thinking big. His company, X Shore, wants to be known as the “Tesla of the seas” and Wästberg is proud to have recently launched a model that sells for just under €100. But when it came to wireless connectivity for X Shore’s new factory in Nyköping, Sweden, Wästberg was initially reluctant to think unconventionally.
“We talked to Tele2 about a 5G solution, and then a private 5G solution. To be honest I said ‘Well this is a dream - I am not sure about the technology or the price’,” Wästberg remembers. “Then we looked into it and realized it actually was much cheaper building a private 5G network.”
Wästberg said mills controlled by computers are typically hardwired, and that this option looked expensive to X Shore. In addition to its mills, the company wanted to connect robots that paint the boats, as well as tablets and bar code readers.
X Shore was able to license 3.7 GHz spectrum from the Swedish government. (Swedish communications regulator PTS allows private companies to apply for local permits to use the 3.7 GHz and 26 GHz frequency bands.) This spectrum will generally offer greater transmission ranges than Wi-Fi, which can mean companies will need to deploy fewer 5G radios than Wi-Fi access points to cover a given area.
Wästberg said X Shore needed fewer than 10 Ericsson radios to cover its 15,000 square meter factory. The Nyköping factory is a completely new facility, so Wästberg’s team did not have to integrate existing infrastructure with the private network. He said the building had power and fiber, but no internet connection until the network was built.
Tele2 operates the network on X Shore’s behalf. “They work from their premises and watch the network and come if needed,” Wästberg said. “They guarantee access and service level agreements and perform all services on the network.”
X Shore bought the radio hardware through an agreement with Ericsson. The RAN supports both LTE and 5G. Ericsson also provides the network core, housed in an onsite server and connected by fiber to the internet. Ericsson said in a press release its network will provide X Shore a foundation for artificial Intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR), virtual reality (VR) and industrial Internet of Things (IIoT).
“Once we have this fast connection in the factory the sky is the limit,” said Wästberg. “We will start with common off-the-shelf products, then we will look in the future for more benefits like driverless trucks.” But he said the ability to capture and analyze data is paramount. “In the past it has been very expensive to get data … up into the system,” he said. “In the long run that is much more important than a driverless truck, even if that’s fun to talk about.”
A wide range of equipment will be connected to the network. X Shore’s workers are not allowed to bring smartphones onto the factory floor and for now phones will not be connected to the private network. Tablets, scanners and all connected machinery will have unique SIM cards. "When we started this project about a year ago none of these [industrial] devices had a 5G chip,” said Wästberg. “Now it looks like they will have 5G chips when they get delivered.” He said equipment that doesn’t come with 5G chips can be hardwired to the network or outfitted with a 5G dongle. Some of the machinery can take weeks to install, so the extra 2-3 hours needed to add 5G is negligible.
Wästberg said delivery times have been slower than he would have liked for some of the IT elements needed to make the network operational, like switches and firewalls. In addition, some of the milling machines he wants to connect to the network have not yet arrived.
Since much of the equipment isn’t connected yet, Wästberg doesn’t have data yet on network speeds. “Speeds are important for us, but it is even more important to have 24/7 uptime for the networks,” he said.
X Shore’s goal is to make the Nyköping factory the most efficient and sustainable boat factory in the world. It is slated to build two boats per day. All X Shore boats are used for recreation, and Wästberg said North America is the company’s biggest market.