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Areas of application and relevance of mobile radio in the logistics industry

Digitalization is changing more and more areas of our lives. One of the industries particularly affected by the changes is the logistics sector. Wireless data transmission technologies and mobile communications have been used in numerous logistics applications for some time now.

Whether on the road, or in internal logistics processes such as warehousing or goods tracking, mobile technology has become indispensable for many applications. The new 5G technology with its high bandwidths and low latency further strengthens the trend toward digitization in logistics. It opens up new opportunities and creates new business models that ensure greater efficiency, speed and climate neutrality. In the following article, we explain in which logistics areas mobile communications are used and why 5G is one of the key technologies for digitization in logistics. 

5G as a driver and key technology for digitization in logistics 

The new mobile communications standard is virtually predestined for logistics. The storage, distribution, transport and handling of goods requires a flexible, location-independent exchange of information. The goods should arrive at their destination without delays or damage. Supply chains networked via mobile communications make it possible to record and track the current location or condition of goods at any time. The 2G (EDGE), 3G (UMTS) and 4G (LTE) mobile technologies previously used for networking have become increasingly powerful, but the network capacities, bandwidths and response times that can be realized have been limiting factors for digitization. 

5G, with a multiple of speed, network capacity and data rates, sets new standards. For the first time, the exchange of huge amounts of data in real time will be possible. The outstanding features of the new mobile communications generation are latency times in the range of just one millisecond, bandwidths in the gigabit range, low error rates, high network availability and support for networking a huge number of end devices. This means that mobile battery-powered sensors with low computing power in any location, such as in basements or warehouses, can be networked in the same way as intelligent stationary end devices with high bandwidth requirements. 5G offers different profiles for the various applications. The Ultra Reliable and Low Latency Communications (uRLLC) profile is intended for time-critical applications with high requirements for low latency and reliable communications such as autonomous driving. Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC) is suitable for energy-efficient networking of a large number of devices per unit area, such as in a warehouse, by equipping the pallets or goods with sensors.

Applications on the road and other traffic routes 

For applications on the road or on other transport routes, such as rail or shipping, there are numerous possible uses. Customers, logistics service providers and vehicles such as trucks can be networked with each other. This helps to record the current traffic volume, find the best routes, optimize truck utilization and save time or fuel. There is a constant exchange of current locations, availability, traffic situations, delivery times and delivery deadlines. 

Another typical area of application for mobile communications is food logistics. When transporting food, it is often necessary to ensure that cold chains are not interrupted. Mobile networked sensors can be used to record and log current freight temperatures at any time and any place. 

With 5G, the dream of true autonomous driving could also become reality in the near future. Already today, more and more assistance systems are supporting drivers. The role of drivers is changing from actively controlling vehicles, to monitoring activities. This will ultimately lead to the fully autonomous, driverless transport vehicle that is networked with other vehicles and the traffic infrastructure. Thanks to autonomous driving, the restrictions on driving and rest times for drivers would be eliminated and productivity in transport would increase. 

Other applications of mobile technology in the transportation sector include: 

– container tracking on the various transport routes and at transshipment points 

– digital information transmission for faster customs clearance 

– on-demand maintenance of the vehicle fleet based on current sensor data on the vehicle status

Mobile technology for internal logistics applications 

Mobile technology has become indispensable not only for logistics processes on the road, but also for internal logistics applications such as warehouse management, goods tracking and supply chain management. 5G gives mobile networking and the Internet of Things (IoT) an additional boost. In principle, almost everything can be equipped with sensors and networked with each other in the future. For example, sensors record the exact position of pallets and simultaneously provide important additional data. In a smart factory, the entire supply chain can be tracked and controlled in real time. Autonomous robots deliver the required parts from the warehouse directly to the production facilities. At the same time, the inventory is always up to date thanks to the transmission of the goods taken or consumed. 

Low-cost trackers networked via mobile radio technologies such as NarrowBand IoT play an important role in these logistics processes. They register and report accelerations, vibrations, temperatures, humidity values, or the location of goods and help to increase quality in logistics and production processes. Sensors detect overturned and damaged goods or goods that are no longer usable due to excessive storage temperatures, for example, and report them to central control software. This software removes defective goods from circulation and automatically provides replacements. NarrowBand IoT requires little energy, works practically everywhere thanks to good building penetration (even in basements or in buildings that are unfavorable for conventional mobile communications), and offers high reliability and security.