The 5G-Industry Campus Europe (5G-ICE) is a research infrastructure for the validation of 5G in production and is located on the Melaten Campus of RWTH Aachen University. Two factors contribute to the uniqueness of 5G-ICE: A complete 5G infrastructure and the cooperation of three production research institutes – the Fraunhofer Institute for Production Technology IPT, the Machine Tool Laboratory (WZL) at RWTH Aachen University and the Research Institute for Rationalization (FIR) e. V. at RWTH Aachen University. The 5G network supplier will be Ericsson. The central coordination of the entire project is carried out by the Fraunhofer IPT.
In seven pre-competitive establishment projects on the 5G-Industry Campus Europe, the project partners are investigating specific advantages of 5G in industry-relevant applications – from 5G sensor technology for monitoring and controlling highly complex manufacturing processes to mobile robotics and logistics and cross-location production chains. While the FIR will primarily deal with questions of logistics, the IPT and WZL will focus on manufacturing and assembly. The 5G-Industry Campus Europe is thus the only location in Germany and Europe that takes a holistic view of 5G in the context of production. For this purpose, the 5G-Industry Campus Europe will be equipped with the very latest mobile communications equipment at an early stage. The partners of the 5G-Industry Campus Europe work in an implementation-oriented manner with real use cases and thus perform important pioneering work for the establishment of 5G in the manufacturing industry.
The 5G-Industry Campus Europe creates a complete 5G ecosystem: On the one hand, this has been realized with the indoor networks of the participating institutes in the machine halls, on the other hand, the open space on the Melaten Campus have been equipped with an outdoor network covering the distances between the buildings. The network was technically implemented with a 4G anchor band at 2.3 GHz and a 5G network in the frequency range 3.7 to 3.8 GHz (band N77/N78). In the hall area, it is possible to supplement the network with additional 5G radio units in the 26 GHz frequency range (millimeter waves, band N258). The frequency range will play an essential role for all industrial companies that want to operate their own 5G network without provider participation. The 5G-Industry Campus Europe offers these companies early insights into this technology. In principle, the findings will also be transferable to other frequency ranges and thus also offer providers the opportunity to tailor their industrial offer to the needs of production. In addition to networking in central architectures (i.e. data hierarchies within a closed network, e.g. with Fog/Enterprise Cloud solutions), cross-location networking has also been realized, on the one hand by linking the institutes with each other, and on the other hand across countries within the Swedish-German Testbed for Smart Production.
Aachen as location for multidisciplinary research in the largest European 5G research network
Aachen offers optimal conditions for the development of the largest European 5G research network: On the one hand, Aachen forms an interface to the neighbouring countries Belgium and the Netherlands, on the other hand, the RWTH Aachen University provides an optimal location for multidisciplinary research and development. Furthermore, Aachen and its surroundings are home to many players in the field of mobile communications: Ericsson, world market leader in the field of communications technology and services and also a partner in the 5G-Industry Campus Europe project, has a central location in Herzogenrath, where every single mobile communications standard has been significantly developed since the development of 2G. Telecommunications companies such as Deutsche Telekom, Vodafone and a part of Versatel are also located in NRW and, due to the proximity of the location, offer optimal opportunities to research joint 5G applications for the manufacturing industry.
The LTE and 5G mobile communications expansion is also strongly supported by the state government of North Rhine-Westphalian. The Mobile Communications Pact 2018, which the Ministry of Economic Affairs, Innovation, Digitization and Energy of the State of North Rhine-Westphalia has concluded with the mobile communications companies Telefónica, Telekom and Vodafone, has already made it possible to close many LTE coverage gaps, especially in the areas close to the borders with Belgium and the Netherlands, which is crucial for successful 5G expansion. In order to support the use of 5G at an early stage in the economy, the North Rhine-Westphalian state government is offering the 5G.NRW funding competition to implement 5G projects such as research and development test centres, campus networks and real-life laboratories and the development of 5G applications.
For the development of the 5G-Industry Campus Europe, the Fraunhofer IPT and consortium received a three-year funding of almost 6.2 million euros from the Federal Ministry of Transport and Digital Infrastructure (BMVI). Together with project partners, applications and solutions for networked production using the 5G mobile communications standard are to be developed and tested there in the future. The 5G-Industry Campus Europe is thus making an important contribution to digitization and Industry 4.0 in Germany and the European environment.