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5G is almost here but security concerns persist

14 April 2019

5G was one of the headline themes at this year’s Hannover Messe in Germany, the industrial trade fair which took place from the 1st to 5th April, which featured a large-scale 5G testbed where network equipment providers demonstrated the kinds of functionality that the new mobile standard will be able to deliver.  

Much was made of the Mecca of possibilities it offers in terms of flexibility, mobility and convertibility of industrial plants. With 5G, networks of driverless transport systems and mobile robots, mobile operating devices and new human-machine interfaces, such as applications of augmented reality, are conceivable. In addition 5G enables completely new manufacturing concepts by means of wirelessly networked, highly flexible production modules that can be easily combined with each other without the need for cabling (more on page 11).  

Of course none of this is news but Hannover's organisers were keen to impress that the launch of 5G may come sooner than many people think – possibly even as soon as the second half of this year. Say the organisers: "It is a technology that offers unbeatable benefits for industrial users, so now is the time for industrial firms to start planning their next step in the Industry 4.0 journey."

However 5G brings risks as well as opportunities; in particular 5G's potential for remote control leaves it particularly susceptible to cyber attacks – an area where manufacturers' confidence is already low. In its 2018 report Cyber security for manufacturing, Make UK (formerly the EEF) along with AIG and The Royal United Services Institute (RUSI), found nearly half of manufacturers have been the victim of cyber-crime, with the sector now the third most targeted for attack. More worryingly according to the report 41 per cent of companies do not believe they have access to enough information to even assess their true cyber risk. 

A cyber attack in March 2019 which is estimated to have cost aluminium producer Norsk Hydro between $35 million and $41 million in one week and a new report from the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (DCMS) which indicates that the cost of cyber attacks is rising in general will have done little to alleviate these concerns. 

5G may be pitched as the next step in the Industry 4.0 journey but without assurances over cyber-security, for many it may feel more like a leap of faith.