Cumucore’s Low-Cost factory Mobile Core is Key to Unlock Industry 4.0’s Fully Autonomous and Connected Future

Cumucore’s Low-Cost factory Mobile Core is Key to Unlock Industry 4.0’s Fully Autonomous and Connected Future

The mobile core is the brain and central nervous system of a mobile telecommunications network, responsible for operating user equipment (UE) (devices used by the end user to communicate), radio equipment and the core network. The core domain handles a wide variety of essential functions in the mobile network, such as connectivity and mobility management, authentication and authorization, subscriber data management and policy management, among others.

However, as the IoT world becomes increasingly device-enabled and interconnected, traditional proprietary mobile core technologies are simply too costly and overbuilt for what devices require. In this new world, we are also seeing the emergence of private networks serving manufacturing facilities, educational and healthcare campuses and more across many sectors. Connectivity in this world looks and behaves differently -- this isn’t about enabling a phone call or web access. It’s about a nimble, adaptive environment where devices can communicate, interoperate and adapt to changing conditions, free of a physical wire connection and without the need for Internet access. 

A vision for a low-cost factory designed mobile core:

Cumucore, a Finland-based company founded by former Nokia professionals and researchers initially began as a research project. The company’s founder, telecommunications executive, researcher and serial entrepreneur Dr. Jose Costa-Requena first devised the concept of a highly efficient industrial mobile core ten years ago as part of his academic work at the University of Aalto in Helsinki, Finland. His research quickly gained traction with other academic institutions and R&D organizations around the globe, seeking an efficient lower-cost form of connectivity. Today, Cumucore has customers of its factory mobile core across Europe, Japan, Africa and now, the United States.  

Cumucore’s 4G Packet Core is designed using microservices for each of the functions defined in the 4G architecture. The system can be deployed in bare metal or virtualized platforms (e.g. OpenStack, Kubernetes) and provides a unique framework to build industrial and private networks. The design is focused on flexibility, cost reduction and efficiency leveraging the advantages of Network Function Virtualization (NFV). Components and interfaces include 4G EPC, NB-IoT, and eMBMS.  

The company’s 5GC technology includes all the required functionality for interoperability with 3GPP Rel 16 and has been tested with different RAN vendors. Cumucore’s current release of 5 NC includes the network functions from Service-Based Architecture (SBA) required for supporting network slicing i.e. (NSSF) and discovery of Multi-Access Edge Computing (MEC) through the Network Repository Function (NRF). The company’s Network Slicing Manager (NSM) enables connectivity to virtual networks from one physical network. NSM can define slice sizes, different quality of service per slice, and traffic rules per slice including prioritization and pre-emption rules. Through the Network Slice Manager (NSM) integrated with the Cumucore Network Wizard (CNW) a Graphical interface for managing the network. Through the NSM, Cumucore customers can manage access rights to the network slices in the multitenant use case and isolate and assign different features to each slice. From the NSM the customer can create an industrial slice for Time Sensitive Network 5G virtual switch, a communication slice to separate voice communications, and a different slice for Internet access, edge computing or private cloud connectivity, etc.

Mika Skarp joined Cumucore to lead the company out of academia and into the commercial world. Also a former Nokia executive with experience from the start-up world, Mika has been advancing Cumucore’s sales efforts in the Industry 4.0, media, autonomous logistics and retail sectors, proving the versatility and demand for the company’s low-cost mobile core solution among companies that are establishing private mobile networks. 

Cumucore’s Factory mobile core is perfectly suited to Industrial IoT environments. In the future of manufacturing 4.0, factories will be dominated by connected devices, autonomous robots and vehicles and artificial intelligence to parse data and enable rapid, accurate decision-making. In this new industrial world of operations, Cumucore enables connectivity without the need for cables, local control boards and resource-intensive installation, allowing factories to move to a wireless infrastructure that is more nimble, cost-efficient and flexible while remaining highly secure and high-performing. 

A fully autonomous factory future:

“Imagine a factory environment where every machine is mobile instead of fixed in place and tethered to cables and wires,” says Mika. “These machines can then communicate through Cumucore’s revolutionary Ethernet PDU and in synchronicity through a time-sensitive network (TSN) that we have built on top of that Ethernet PDU, that can then be augmented by AI. As far as we know, we are the only provider in the Western world providing this kind of capability and it promises to be a huge game changer in factory automation because in this scenario the machines can operate autonomously and around the clock, they don’t need light to operate so there are massive power savings, they can be optimized and easily reconfigured for fast product line changes and they don’t need humans to oversee their operation.” 

Cumucore is on the leading edge of advancement in the development of a factory designed mobile core. For this technology to be deployed broadly, the industry needs to catch up to this innovation. Chip providers such as Qualcomm need to produce a new chipset to support Ethernet PDU, and device manufacturers in UE need to also support Ethernet PDU. 

Through its relationship with Open 5G Innovation Lab, Cumucore has been able to tap into the Lab’s vast ecosystem. “As we move into the US market and pave the way for commercialization of our low-cost mobile core in the enterprise, Jim and his team at 5G OI Lab have been a tremendous source of business insight,” says Mika. Through the Lab, Cumucore is now building a relationship with Intel where the two companies are engaged in a joint project. 

“It’s a huge success for us,” says Mika. “Of course, we’re impatient for more, and things never move fast enough, but to have Intel at the table is a major win. I’ve been selling an idea for nearly 10 years, and to be honest, I’ve heard no about a million times. Now, we’re starting to hear yes. To have more business opportunities than we can handle is quite unreal.”  

Posted February 20, 2024

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