By Jef Rouner
Creating a 5G network is the next frontier in communication technology, and Texas is on the forefront of its manufacturing. In addition to partnership between AT&T and Samsung in Austin, a new “smart factory” by Ericsson in Lewisville will be both builder and practical showcase of 5G.
The cellular networks have revolutionized life as we know it starting from the purely analog voice delivery of 1G and evolving to the mobile internet capabilities of today’s smartphones. That evolution was critical to building the World Wide Web. A 1975 study from the Hanover Institute warned that there wasn’t enough metal in the Earth’s crust to actually connect every human with wires. Wireless has eliminated that problem as well as birthing unforeseeable new industries.
The Lewisville factory will be manufacturing the components necessary to reach 5G as well as incorporating that technology in the automation on their factory floor. Commercial applications are anticipated as the primary beneficiaries of the new network instead of private users.
“5G is not so much about mobile phones as other devices,” wrote Dallas Morning News tech reporter Melissa Repko. “Autonomous cars, factories of the future. It’s going to be very hard to predict what that may look like in the future. With 4G, people couldn’t predict that would lead to a boom in the app economy, the Ubers, Lyfts, and AirBnBs of the world. You need a crystal ball to see how 5G will work out.”
Jobs are obviously a concern. Oxford Economics warned that 20 million manufacturing jobs are scheduled to be lost over the next decade to increased presence of robotics. Texas ranks among the most vulnerable states to those losses because of our comparatively high rate of manufacturing employment.
Ericsson has anticipated that concern. Over $3 million has been gifted to the company from the Texas Enterprise Fund, which is aimed at job creation. The factory, which is slated to open in early 2020, will employ roughly a hundred workers in the beginning and is expected to triple that number over the next four years.
There is also the fact that the new Ericsson factory adds yet another major distributor to the city as a hub. Nokia, Toyota, and Bed, Bath, and Beyond already run massive operations from Lewisville. They and other companies employ a lot of people, but the 5G technology that Ericsson makes is also expected to make robots like automatic pickers more viable in the workplace. That could mean even fewer workers in the long run, but it is difficult to predict at this time.
“This is a pretty trendy topic right now to build out these smart factories that are basically full of digitized and connected bells and whistles and seeing what that could do for companies in terms of making their work more efficient,” says Repko.