Digital twins gain traction but are held back by lack of bandwidth, finds report

Sep 22, 2021 | Industry 4.0

The arrival of technologies including Internet of Things (IoT), artificial intelligence (AI) and advanced data analytics has widened the appeal and usage of digital twins. People and processes can now have digital twins that enable accelerated development, smoother operations and continuous innovation.

A recent study from Juniper Research has uncovered that total global spend on digital twins will reach $12.7 billion in 2021, an increase of 17% from $10.8 billion in 2019. The research found that manufacturing will be the single biggest sector for digital twin deployment; accounting for 34% of total spend in 2021, followed by energy and utilities at 18%.

However, the value of digital twins is held back by bandwidth issues according to Neset Yalcinkaya, VP of Products and General Manager for R&D for Quectel, a leading global supplier of cellular and GNSS modules for wireless technologies like 5G is based in San Diego, at the forefront of mobile cellular technology.

“The essential performance component at the heart of any digital twin deployment is connectivity that can reliably connect digital twins to physical objects and ensure huge volumes of data that are captured in real-time can be communicated. The connectivity is essential to ensure continuously updated records so the physical twin and the digital twin or twins have the same data and remain aligned with each other. Inevitably this highly frequent communication, which often involves transmission of large amounts of data, relies on robust, low latency, high bandwidth connectivity.

2G and 3G cellular networks are inadequate for many digital twin deployments because they provide neither the speed nor the low latency that such deployments demand. However, LTE is applicable to some, less latency sensitive digital twin applications and 5G addresses all latency concerns with its sub-1ms latency performance. There are further performance challenges to consider with LTE because digital twin applications that involve rapid prediction followed by action need high-speed data processing capabilities. LTE cannot always support this and the higher speeds of 5G are required.

A further alternative is to use fixed fibre networks but these demand wired connectivity which is often impractical, especially for the moving objects of IoT. Running cables is not feasible even for many static deployments because of the need to reconfigure machines in factories or to transit goods across campuses. In addition, typical factory cabling can involve hundreds of kilometres of wiring which is costly. 5G is positioned to be a vital enabling technology for digital twins. Digital twins are truly helping to build a smarter world in which 5G, AI and IoT are coming together to redefine what is possible.”

The use of 5G IoT modules is gaining traction because they are ideal for the heavy, real-time workloads of critical digital twin connectivity because they can support many thousands of objects in confined spaces with value in:

  • Autonomous cars traversing a smart city and ensuring uninterrupted communication to make travel safe and efficient.
  • Aircraft engine predictive maintenance
  • In the energy sector, oil field operators can analyze drill site data to build digital models and guide drilling in real-time
  • In healthcare, medical researchers are creating highly accurate digital twins of human organs, such as the heart, to aid diagnosis, education and training.
  • For smarter urban planning, such as in Singapore, where the authorities use a detailed virtual model of the city state to facilitate urban planning, optimise maintenance and model disaster readiness.

Accenture’s Technology Vision 2021 survey found that 87% of executives agree digital twins are becoming essential to their organisation’s ability to collaborate in strategic ecosystem partnerships. In addition, 65% of executives expect their organisation’s investment in intelligent digital twins to increase over the next three years.