Agricultural and heavy-equipment maker John Deere outlined plans to launch its first private 5G network in a new factory in Brazil later this year, as part of a plan to deploy more mobile connectivity across its global manufacturing facilities.

Jason Wallin, principal architect of infrastructure and operations at John Deere, told Mobile World Live the planter and harvest factory in Horizontina, Brazil will use 3.5GHz mid-band spectrum.

Wallin stated Brazilian regulator ANATEL grants spectrum licences in polygons around a property and then charges for device licences at each location.

John Deere’s goal is to move from a split of 70 per cent wired Ethernet and 30 per cent Wi-Fi, to 80 per cent mobile, 10 per cent Wi-Fi and 10 per cent Ethernet over the next five years.

A typical John Deere factory has miles of Ethernet cables running to various ports.

With significant investments in laser cutters and machine tools with a service life of between ten years and 20 years, Wallin stated John Deere is not making a full move to mobile, rather beginning a private 5G network move.

It currently uses two 4G networks and a standalone (SA) 5G set-up at its headquarters in the US, an approach Wallin said is a blueprint for building mobile networks.

He noted before John Deere uses SA 5G networks in its facilities, the device ecosystem needs to mature.

John Deere began its Industry 4.0 effort in 2019 when it bid for CBRS priority access licences in areas of the US where the company has most of its manufacturing footprint.

It first worked with Nokia to get a handle on how CBRS spectrum could be used, but the end goal is for John Deere to manage the private networks.

The company has 18 private networks across the US, South America and Europe, with some of them deployed in production mode.  

Wallin stated the killer use case for private 5G networks is moving manufacturing parts around facilities. Cranes and overhead machinery sometimes pause as they go from device-to-device due to limitations of Wi-Fi networks.

“As we move towards autonomy in the factory, it becomes problematic, especially when you get into a life safety issue waiting for something and then suddenly your latency bumps up to a second when you had been running something much lower than that.”

He noted the predictability of mobile latency is a boon.

John Deere plans to deploy more 4G and 5G private networks across its 70 manufacturing sites, and 70 logistics and parts locations worldwide, as more spectrum becomes available.