Digitale Vernetzung
Foto: Philipp Plum, Illustration: Lennart Andresen/ Fraunhofer FOKUS

Digital Networking

Digitale Vernetzung, digital networking, links the physical world with the digital world. Buildings, cars, trains, factories, and most things in our everyday life are then interconnected. No matter what you call the resulting new convergence of technologies: Internet of Things, Smart Cities, Smart Grid, Industry 4.0, or Cyber-Physical Systems, essentially, it is about digital exchange.

For instance, digital networking ensures that autonomous vehicles transport spare parts across a factory site based on their own 5G campus network. Connectivity on the road enables precise but anonymous localization so that the truck driver is informed about cyclists in the vicinity. Street lighting or emptying garbage cans as required can be implemented in the connected city, a smart city. Digital twins are created as a bridge between the physical and virtual worlds, e.g., of a production plant, a street, or even an entire town. They are connected to the physical world with sensors and can optimize and monitor processes by analyzing the sensor data.

Thus digital networking helps to increase efficiency, security, cooperation, and also sustainability. Even though the goals of digitalization are often similar, the path to achieving them varies depending on the industry and the specific application. Digital networking is not available off the shelf.

“Innovative applications and business models are usually created through the intelligent integration of data from various sources and domains,” says Prof. Dr. Manfred Hauswirth, Director of the Fraunhofer Institute FOKUS. “There isn't the 'one' digitalization. The right network must be developed for every industry and every application - this is how we sum it up”. Fraunhofer FOKUS has long-standing experience in digitalization in the fields of mobility, public security, administration, e-health, and media.

Complementing its knowledge of the industry, Fraunhofer FOKUS has extensive expertise in the three key technologies for digital networking: software-based 5G networks, edge computing, and artificial intelligence (AI).

For the first time, 5G makes it possible to provide the right network for every application because the core network on which the control programs for communication run is virtually software-based. This permits a demand-specific own network within the network depending on latency, number of devices to be connected, and security. Such a software-based core network is provided by the business unit Software-based Networks with its Open5GCore software. The Open5GCore is a standards-based and vendor-independent 5G core network. The Open5GCore is already in use in more than 60 5G test environments at well-known network operators, manufacturers, companies, and research institutes around the globe. Customers and partners can also test and further develop their own 5G applications and functionalities based on the Open5GCore at the institute in Berlin. For this purpose, the researchers provide a manufacturer-independent 5G campus network.

For digital networking – for example, in an industrial context with high demands on real-time communication – it is also crucial where the data is processed: In a central cloud in a data center hundreds of kilometers away, or close to the site of operation in microdata centers, i.e., at the edge of the network. The advantages of edge computing architecture are that the short distance reduces latency, the network is less busy, more security can be ensured, and the data is stored and processed within a country or even a company. Fraunhofer FOKUS provides support in the implementation of edge computing architectures and offers its own software modules.

Mobile Edge Computing is used by a FOKUS research team from the Smart Mobility business unit in the ReallabHH project, for example. There, together with 30 partners, they are developing digital mobility solutions in a collaborative ecosystem for the Hanseatic City of Hamburg until the end of 2021. Fraunhofer FOKUS is contributing to an app for particularly vulnerable road users, such as pedestrians, cyclists, and users of e-scooters. In the app, smartphone sensor technology is used to determine position and orientation through Mobile Edge Computing, a cloud infrastructure that is located close to the mobile user. This “Location-as-a-Service (LaaS)”- service can then be used for applications such as the hazard warning system or a traffic light phase assistant. This supports holistic, connected traffic planning in the city, which includes not only the car but also pedestrians, cyclists, and public transport. Only in a connected network can environmentally friendly and user-centered mobility be guaranteed in the future.

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