By rolling out one of Europe's first 5G mobile service networks, Spain is laying the infrastructure necessary to compete in the future Industry 4.0 economy.
As headlines track international squabbles over who will rule the future of 5G networks, Spain has already taken the leap by launching its own state-of-the-art mobile service infrastructure. After taking the leap, it hopes to take the lead.
In June 2019, Vodafone España, in cooperation with Huawei, the Chinese telecom giant, rolled out the first commercial 5G mobile service in Spain, which is among the first European nations to install the next generation information technology. Over 10 major Spanish cities, including Madrid, Barcelona, Valencia, and Seville, will soon offer 5G mobile phone customers with download speeds up to 10 times faster than current 4G network bandwidths allow. The development of 5G networks has drawn significant attention in recent years, as the upgraded infrastructure will allow extremely fast communication between technological devices, facilitating every aspect of life related to IoT, a key part of Industry 4.0. ICT sector leaders have long claimed the next industrial revolution will arrive when existing technologies can coordinate with one another directly to execute not just industrial and manufacturing tasks, but also to assist our daily transportation and social needs. Now nations such as Spain are laying the groundwork to unleash the full potential of Industry 4.0, which is still now at its most basic level. It is the extension of the third industrial revolution, in which computerized systems and robotics took a greater role in global economic growth. Spain, along with the UK and Switzerland, is among the leading European nations embracing new opportunities offered by 5G connectivity. Despite pressure from the US government, which seeks to deter its European allies from using Huawei-engineered technologies due to possible cybersecurity risks, most EU member states have already begun partnering with the Chinese telecom. Tony Jin Yong, the CEO of Huawei Spain, said the company is setting politics aside and establishing long-term partnerships with mobile service providers in Spain and throughout the EU. “We will continue to provide service to Spanish operators in their 5G projects,” Jin said. “We will also improve our service so as to inspire and invite more Spanish SMEs to make contributions to 5G applications.” Several companies are already following up on the challenge, making use of the upgraded telecommunications networks in Spain that allow for faster, more efficient manufacturing solutions in industrial applications. This year, Boehringer Ingelheim, a Germany-based multinational pharmaceutical company, will open an EUR120-million plant in Barcelona that will utilize Industry 4.0 technology. Through an interlinked network, machines in the plant’s automated assembly line will package, serialize, and ship medicines with maximized technological capabilities. Peter Ploeger, CEO of Boehringer Ingelheim Spain, said this plant would be a “world benchmark.” Similar applications of 5G network-enabled technologies are useful to the agriculture sector. Through the synchronization of sensors, monitors, and GPS data transmissions, driverless tractors can be guided by IoT over vegetable fields and tend to crops until harvest time. Likewise, automated drones can spray pesticides on fields, speeding up once slow and laborious tasks. Industry 4.0 technologies are not only for production sectors. They can help facilitate tasks in the finance and services sector as well. The government of Aragon, in eastern Spain, has allocated over EUR12 million for the development of AI companies and autonomous systems that will take advantage of the country’s growing 5G network. “Too often, we get caught up in focusing solely on blockchain solutions,” said Dima Zaitsev, head of International PR at ICOBox. “The next great wave of innovation will be driven by a multifaceted tool kit, with AI, blockchain and automation working hand in hand. Spain’s efforts foreshadow the new industrial revolution.”