Beyond 5G, progress across a wide range of wireless communication technologies is now creating new opportunities for industries to improve visibility, enhance operational efficiency, and accelerate automation. Next-generation wireless technologies will enable the next communication revolution, moving beyond today’s goal of connecting everyone to a world in which everything, everywhere is connected.
Key Developments & Implications
The internet of things (IoT) is already established and developing in logistics, and this new generation of wireless technologies will usher in an era of expanded capabilities that build upon today’s successes. The ability to monitor, track, and interact with assets through wireless connections will make supply chains faster, more flexible, more efficient, more predictable, and more resilient.
The combined progress of next-generation wireless technologies will fill in today’s connectivity white spots on the planet, enabling a future of total visibility, widespread autonomy, and near-perfect prediction to enhance operational efficiency and service quality.
Short-range networks include radio-frequency identification (RFID), near-field communication (NFC), and Bluetooth Low Energy. RFID is finding traction in contained environments and closed-loop supply chains. Retailers are using RFID to track inventory throughout the supply chain, citing up to 80% faster stocktaking in stores. NFC, popularized by contactless payment systems, has found its way into common smartphones and has become the de facto technology for passive temperature monitoring in, for example, DHL’s SmartSensor solution for critical life sciences shipments.
Local area networks (LANs) include Wi-Fi 6 and ultra-wideband (UWB). In addition to faster speeds and more bandwidth, the protocol can dedicate data traffic to specific applications, giving logistics operations the connectivity headroom needed to operate large fleets of wireless devices, such as scanners, mobile workstations, and even autonomous mobile robots. UWB, originally derived from radar technologies, allows for the precise indoor localization of people, assets, and shipments. One instance of UWB finding traction is the use of UWB tags for physical distancing and contact tracing in warehousing operations in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Cellular networks will bring about 5G, the fifth generation cellular technology standard with four key attributes. Firstly, enhanced mobile broadband will bring 10-100x higher data rates than standard wireless broadband communication (LTE). Ultra-low latency communications will support the high-speed, mission-critical communication needed for autonomous vehicles. Thirdly, massive machine-type communication will allow connection of up to 1 million devices to a single 5G cell, giving plenty of headroom for IoT activity. Lastly, network slicing will allow bandwidth to be allocated to dedicated applications. In logistics, this will enable smart roads and autonomous logistics transport, hyper-connected logistics facilities, and the dynamic setup of new or temporary logistics facilities during seasonal peaks.
Low-power wide-area networks (LPWANs), including LTE-M and NB-IoT, utilize narrowband cellular networks to provide a small amount of connectivity over very large areas. These networks are ideal for tracking logistics assets in large, regional areas over a very long period of time, given their wide reach and low power consumption.
Global area networks (GANs) are based on low-Earth orbit satellites (LEOS). These orbit the Earth at several hundred meters and are much smaller and faster than geostationary satellites, circumnavigating the planet in just 100 minutes. With a lowering barrier to entry in the satellite launch market, it is expected that 10,000-50,000 satellites will be launched through 2030 (see Space Logistics). For logistics providers this will bring low power connectivity to the remotest outdoor locations on Earth, including oceans, deserts, mountain ranges, and jungles where currently no communications infrastructure exists.
Questions Answered in This Report
- What is Next-Generation Wireless and why is it relevant for logistics now?
- Which Next-Generation Wireless technologies will enable new use cases across a variety of business sectors, and what are they?
- How can I start applying Next-Generation Wireless in my supply chain?
Talk to an Expert
Head of SmartSensor IoT
DHL Customer Solutions & Innovation
Christopher heads the IoT SmartSensor team within DHL, and is in charge of the DHL SmartSensor solution, which is offered to all customers and Business Units of DHL. He joined DHL in 2018 and since then is driving and leveraging further IoT applications within DHL together with his team.
Previously he worked as a management consultant for network industries like energy, telecommunication and logistics. Here, he was leading multiple projects in the area of Business Model Innovation based on data-driven services. He holds a Diploma in Business Administration from the University of Mannheim.
Global Head of DHL Trend Research
Ben Gesing is a global innovation leader with 7+ years of experience developing technical solutions in the logistics, telecommunications, and consumer electronics industry. Today he leads the Trend Research activities at the DHL Innovation Center near Bonn, Germany. He and his team are responsible for shaping the overall innovation agenda at Deutsche Post DHL Group through producing industry trend reports and piloting cutting edge technologies like artificial intelligence, computer vision, and robotics in live logistics operations together with startups.