Public or Private 5G for Warehouses?

Back in October 2023, CelcomDigi and DHL Supply Chain Malaysia (DHL) officially launched Malaysia’s first 5G-powered AI autonomous inventory management system. The news article said:

According to DHL, the 5G-enabled solution provides greater efficiencies, time savings and reduced electricity consumption for its inventory management.

Using a combination of drones equipped with high-resolution cameras and robots, DHL is able to carry out daily inventory management with automated stock-taking solutions and computer vision technologies independently, and without human errors. It added that it has helped them achieve up to 20 times efficiency and up to 100% precision and accuracy.

The lights-out warehouse solution also allowed DHL to enhance space utilisation and reduce daily electricity consumption. Since the stocktaking is now handled autonomously, it can also help reduce accidents and mitigate risks at the warehouse.

In terms of connectivity, the autonomous warehouse solution taps on CelcomDigi’s 4G LTE and 5G connectivity using the 3.5GHz band on 5G NSA. The high-speed and low-latency connectivity is provided by an indoor 5G and 4G site deployed inside the warehouse as shown below.

From our understanding this looks like a public network that is providing a reliable connectivity through indoor cell sites. There is no mention of hybrid network or network slicing in the article.

Here is a video from the event:

Wireless pioneer Betacom, an accelerator of Industry 4.0 through private 5G wireless networks, is taking a slightly different approach. Back in August 2022, it announced that Teltech Group, a US based leader in logistics/supply chain services, asset management and technology solutions, was deploying Betacom 5G as a Service to automate its 200,000 square-foot warehouse in the Dallas/Fort Worth metropolitan area. 

The press release said:

The warehouse will also become a showcase for warehouse automation and Industry 4.0 IoT capabilities, with recent advances in warehouse automation including robots, drones, automated forklifts enabled by private 4G/5G.

Founded in 1999, Native American and woman-owned Teltech provides a wide array of services, ranging from warehousing and third party logistics solutions (3PL) to solar power system development, talent resourcing and, recently, tethered drones that provide broadband in hard-to-reach places. With customers including government entities, commercial organizations, tribal nations, WISPs, and tier 1 telecommunications carriers, its resources under management are many and varied so the systems required to track and enable their movement and deployment are increasingly sophisticated.

“We all know that Wi-Fi is not the ultimate warehouse communications solution, especially when high security and low latency needs are taken into account,” said Danny Wade, Chief Operating Officer for Teltech. “A private 4G/5G network is a more secure and efficient environment for the work that we do to support our own customers.”

Teltech consolidated four Dallas/Fort Worth-area warehouses into a single warehouse in 2020, developing the entire space and supporting systems from scratch. The Betacom private 4G/5G network supports the company’s NetSuite Enterprise Resource Planning (ERP) system and enables enhanced scanning capabilities that greatly increase efficiencies in material receiving, order fulfillment and shipping. Airspan, a partner of Betacom and Teltech, provided the underlying radio access network (RAN).

“Using private 4G/5G, we are able to use the proper device applications for automated cycle counting of our inventory,” said Wade. “This provides a huge relief to us at the warehouse resource level. With private wireless, we are able to retain the accuracy we need in our inventory levels, without allocating costly and hard-to-acquire human resources, allowing us to keep them more focused on higher-performing functions.”

A video of the deployment is as follows:

While these are both completely different approaches, both the public and private 5G networks are able to solve the Intralogistics requirements for the warehouses. It all depends on if there is a dedicated spectrum available for use by the organisations to deploy the private network. If not, then going through the operators may be the only way forward.