Connectivity

Can you build a car only on wi-fi?

From GM to Ford, wi-fi, wired, and 5G speeds converge in mega-factory settings.
article cover

Nic Antaya/Getty Images

· 3 min read

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew informs business leaders about the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts and more to help them make smart decisions.

For perennial powerhouses like GM and Ford, the development of wi-fi and 5G has opened the door for stronger and more flexible connectivity within their manufacturing plants, letting them more easily use robots and monitor operations on the factory floor.

A partnership with Verizon that started in November 2020 came on the heels of GM’s retooling of one of its factories just outside of Detroit, refitting it to be the central location for GM’s EV assembly.

The factory, called Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, is the result of a $2.2 billion investment from GM, the largest investment the company had made up until that point into a single facility upgrade, according to Jennifer Korail, senior plant communications manager for Factory Zero and Ultium Cells at GM. It is GM’s first all-EV assembly plant, producing vehicles like the GMC Hummer EV and the Cruise Origin since its rededication in October 2020.

John Wells, IT operations manager for Factory Zero Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly, told Tech Brew that Verizon’s 5G network primarily fills gaps in coverage or outages for the factory.

“Wireless provides a lot of benefits over a wired solution. Reliability, speed, scale, reduced number of cables obviously allows you flexibility in setting up workstations or anything that you would want to connect to the internet or to the network,” Wells told Tech Brew.

Wells said that in the past, GM’s factories were mostly wired environments, and now that Factory Zero is partially wireless, the plant has more redundancies in its architecture and an improved ability to adjust in emergencies if they arise.

Companies like Telefónica Deutschland, Ericsson, and AT&T have also worked on connectivity solutions in factories for automakers like Mercedes-Benz and Ford, respectively: Factory 56 in Sindelfingen, Germany, was Mercedes’s first 5G factory, partnering with Telefónica Deutschland and Ericsson.

AT&T’s partnership with Ford is centered around its Rouge Electric Vehicle Center in Dearborn, Michigan, where Ford produces its F-150 Lightning electric pickup truck. Joseph Mosele, VP of enterprise mobility at AT&T Business, told Tech Brew that Ford is using 5G in its Dearborn plant to help facilitate what he called “smart manufacturing.”

“That network and capabilities inside of the plant is not only going to enable them to retool for electrification of their fleets, but it’s also going to allow them to adapt some of the smart manufacturing and the automation that everybody’s been talking about for years,” Mosele stated.

Wells emphasized that the tech is still new and there are new use cases to be found. “I think it’s so new that we need time to make sure this is viable to the entire corporation, the EV production totally converting over to wi-fi…I’ve been in this business for 20-plus years. It’s primarily been a wired environment. I think it’s just too new, to really just say, ‘Hey, let’s go wi-fi.’” Wells noted.

Keep up with the innovative tech transforming business

Tech Brew informs business leaders about the latest innovations, automation advances, policy shifts and more to help them make smart decisions.