One of the great things about emerging technologies is that they often give a boost to existing, or previous generations of technologies unless they supersede them.
Private networks are one of the verticals that is beginning to get legs. It seems that the technologies that are enabling 5G are also infusing into 4G. I recently discussed private LTE and where it is going. This missive continues that discussion on to 5G and the advantages of private 5G over private 4G. It focuses on one of the use cases that is deploying 5G.
5G technologies, such as bandwidth manipulation, improved latency, new frequencies, etc., are creating opportunities in the private network space.
One early and promising vertical is manufacturing. While there are any number of sub-verticals in manufacturing, the global manufacturing platform is going to benefit significantly from the expanded metrics of 5G. However, it has its own infrastructure, commonly referred to as the Industrial Internet of things (IIoT).
Emerging technologies and developments in technology have given the IIoT a boost, and it promises to be one of the rising stars of 5G. As the IIoT gains traction it will be integrating the next iteration of Industry “X”.0 – 4.0. This integration promises to bump up the manufacturing sector by another order of magnitude.
IIoT and Industry 4.0
However, before I go into how private 5G will play in this ecosystem, perhaps a quick paragraph on the IIoT and industry 4.0 is warranted.
First of all, they are not joined at the hip as some suggest. The IIoT is the grittier end of the IoT (or the Internet of Everything/Everyone – IoX as I like to call it). It is, predominantly, the M2M-based manufacturing sector of the IoX.
By implementing industry 4.0 metrics (analytics, automation, lean approaches, virtualization, AI, machine learning, etc.) the IIoT is expected to add 10 to 25 percent in manufacturing efficiency – even better as IoX technologies mature. Basically, by integrating Industry 4.0 principles, techniques and operating methodologies, tomorrow’s factories will be “intelligent.”
Why private and why 5G wireless?
The answer to why private is relatively straightforward. There are two main reasons. The first is because private networks can use both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. Having the option of using licensed spectrum gives the client much more control over network metrics (who uses it, footprint, spectrum, wireless technologies, privacy, etc.). Being able to use unlicensed spectrum offers a cost savings option.
The second is security. Private networks have the ability to be secured in a way that public networks cannot. In a nutshell, private networks have the ability to be fully controlled by the client, using whatever security scheme they wish.
The answer to why 5G is also relatively straightforward. Most significant is the availability of both existing and new spectrum, and bandwidth manipulation within such spectrum. 5G offers the private client the option of acquiring 10s to 100s of megahertz of contiguous spectrum in the mmWave bands. This is crucial for two reasons; the number of devices and the speed of the network. If the manufacturing campus is extensive, sub-6 MHz spectrum offers an extended coverage area if necessary.
In addition, combining both mmWave and sub-6 GHz networks offers flexibility unheard of in earlier private networks. This works because 5G networks can integrate Industry 4.0 platforms such as virtualization, self-organizing/healing networks and automated software control of the hardware (both digital and analog).
An avant-garde example of this concept is being developed by Mercedes-Benz. Not only is this going to be on the cutting edge of the IIoT, but it will be one of the first use cases of a private 5G network. They are building a state-of-the-art automobile production plant in Sindelfingen, Germany. It is going to use 5G, and local Wi-Fi networks, to automate much of the M2M-connections, and the related systems across a 20,000 square meter facility.
Critical to Mercedes-Benz is security – primarily keeping data in and keeping hackers out. The entire 5G network is secured. That transmits sensitive production data within the organization without passing through any third parties.
Next is the ability of 5G to offer low latency. A private 5G network can offer amazing latency numbers because they have smaller footprints, and devices can be chosen with that as a design criterion. Software can be chosen and optimized for latency, as well.
Finally, it is about the data. Large scale manufacturing facilities, integrating AI, will generate huge volumes of data. Such voluminous amounts of data can only be handled by plenty of bandwidth. 5G can provide that.
The private scenario is attractive to such operations because it allows full control of the network by the client. This creates the ability to optimize processes, making them more precise, flexible and efficient. It also allows the client to customize functionality. For example, linking product tracking data to the assembly line. This can help improve the efficiency and precision of the processes.
Mercedes-Benz is not the only one finding private networks attractive. Recently, Audi announced it will set up a 5G network trial with Ericsson (who is involved with Mercedes-Benz).
Going forward, I have discussed that early use cases for 5G will fall along such lines rather than enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB). Not only manufacturing, but segments like agriculture, infrastructure, utilities, transportation, and the like are all early verticals for 5G. This is where the proving ground is showing up. And, it will also be the place where RoI is likely to first appear.
Carolina West Wireless has signed a multi-year network modernization deal with Ericsson to use the Ericsson Fast VoLTE Launch, which will allow Wi-Fi calling and future 5G access, as well as VoLTE. The agreement also includes network densification, expansion and upgrade to 3GPP standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) hardware and software capabilities.
Slayton Stewart, CEO of Carolina West Wireless, said the contract helps the carrier today with improved LTE service and tomorrow with next generation cellular.
“Ericsson has a field-proven VoLTE solution, and we’re making the investments today that will help us evolve our networks tomorrow. Ericsson has been a long-standing partner of ours, and their end-to-end 5G-ready solution offerings allow us to provide our customers with the most advanced technology,” Stewart said.
With VoLTE in place in the network, consumers will have access to more flexible and easy-to-use communication services integrated on a multitude of devices, which will work seamlessly when users move between different accesses like LTE and Wi-Fi. Wi-Fi calling enables operator voice services to be provided in more locations, such as indoor environments by complementing macro network coverage.
In 2018, Carolina West Wireless announced an agreement to use Ericsson’s cloud-based Network Management as a Service solution to offload end-to-end management of monitoring, troubleshooting, configuration and optimization of their network.
Private LTE has received a fair amount of interest of late, particularly in the citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) frequencies. Moreover, there is talk that private LTE being looked at as a replacement for public Wi-Fi, again, particularly in the CBRS spectrum. It is interesting what is being discussed around this.
In one of my feeds, there was a discussion about a company called Cradlepoint, a company that is championing the CBRS band as an opportunity to provide private LTE to enterprises. An excerpt from the company missive states its wireless routers can be used in conjunction with the CBRS spectrum to provide enterprises with a way to escape from Wi-Fi.
That is a slightly slanted perspective, IMHO. Wi-Fi has done a fairly decent job, in many cases. However, it was never intended as the be-all and end-all of public or private networks. However, upcoming Wi-Fi 6 is a “whole ‘nother animal” and is going to change the Wi-Fi landscape, as we know it.
There is no doubt that private LTE networks are a platform that has potential. There is also no doubt that there are applications, with a large number of devices that require ample bandwidth, where Wi-Fi struggles. However, it is unlikely that CBRS will replace public or private Wi-Fi, as some are suggesting.
Why? For a number of reasons. Building a core-based network is not practical for such contained applications (say, a warehouse with tons of production monitoring cameras), because the delay in and out of the core is too lengthy (there is also the economic issue). A multi-access edge computing network (MEC) is also too expensive, as is licensed LTE. Both are overkill for such applications.
Moreover, except for private LTE in the shared spectrum, other private LTE services are too expensive, as well. Finally, while some iterations of pre-Wi-Fi 6 have decent specifications, most are simply too bandwidth, and speed constrained, or too little flexibility and device counts, even with its updates.
However, with the emergence of Wi-Fi 6, this may all become a bit cloudier. How Wi-Fi 6 will challenge this will be discussed in an upcoming dialog.
LTE does have advantages over current Wi-Fi iterations. For one, there is better security and reliability and the choice among licensed, shared, and unlicensed spectrum. In addition, it is ubiquitous and well established. Therefore, private LTE has the potential to emerge as an economical, and technically capable, platform for applications such as warehouses or manufacturing facilities, as a primary vertical.
However, the CBRS band is filled with incumbents. CBRS-based private LTE has the potential for large, multi-device installations, but there a possibility that certain incumbent applications, both on land and on the sea, can become compromised by new CBRS players if the spectrum is not precisely managed.
With private LTE in shared spectrum, management is much more complex. It relies on a process called the spectrum allocation system (SAS). SAS is a complex, three-tier, spectrum authorization framework, designed to accommodate a variety of commercial uses, on a shared basis, with incumbent federal and non-federal users of the band.
Access and operations will be managed by a dynamic SAS, conceptually similar to the databases used to manage television white space (TVWS) devices. Essentially, it is a priority system that allows unused spectrum to be used by multiple players when available. Depending upon which type of license, users can have access to bands from 5 megahertz to, hopefully, 150 megahertz.
However, if TVWS history is any indication of how this kind of spectrum sharing is going to fare, we are in a bit of trouble. TVWS has not been successful. Why that is, is up for some debate, but essentially, it was positioned as an alternative to Wi-Fi and a panacea for rural connectivity – some similar use cases for private LTE.
Moreover, the FCC’s TVWS space policy, to date, has been a flop. There has just been no market adoption for several reasons. One example is that the maximum data rates for TVWS devices range from 3.25-16 Mbps, which is below the FCC’s new threshold for what constitutes broadband. Other challenges include a 4-watt power limit and the risk of interference from short-range devices.
It is unlikely that the CBRS shared private LTE project will have identical issues. The FCC is much wiser about CBRS, but still, it has some bandwidth constraints. Furthermore, it has a similar, complex spectrum management policy that has not been a success in TVWS.
All that aside, there is a lot of optimism for private LTE. Not just in the CBRS band, but overall in 5G. However, the money seems to be in CBRS, for the moment, for a couple of emerging applications.
That being said, however, there is one serious specter that looms over the CBRS band – bandwidth. There is only a 100- to 150-megahertz swath being made available. While that is much better than many bandwidth slices from, 450 MHz to, 2 GHz, even 5 GHz, it is not the “unlimited” chunks that are being anticipated at the higher mmWave frequencies. The FCC has indicated there may be some additional spectrum that can be made available here, but that is only speculation for the time being.
Bandwidths, of 500 megahertz to 2 gigahertz for 5G mmWave, are what the industry has been touting for that elusive 1 < and > 1 µs/Gbps goal. Therefore, one must not lose sight of that and promise beyond what the realities of CBRS are.
Another potential obstacle to CBRS is Wi-Fi 6. In addition, how well SAS will actually function among all the players has not been proven. From a pragmatic perspective, I am a bit concerned that the early excitement of CBRS-based private LTE may be premature.
However, if it turns out that all the challenges can be overcome, private LTE does have the potential to enable a number of different verticals, across a number of wireless segments. Let us hope it lives up to its potential.
Evertek, a WISP that serves rural Iowa, has selected the Telrad LTE solution to upgrade their wireless network. The LTE upgrade will providing existing subscribers with higher throughput packages, as well as improve coverage to reach more customers in rural areas.
Evertek is using the Telrad high-power BreezeCOMPACT 3000 base station in the 2.5 GHz BRS spectrum. Newly deployed sites are using the LTE solution while existing infrastructure is being upgraded. A majority of Evertek subscribers are residential, the company also serves many businesses and supports public safety, with connectivity to police cars, and precision farming, with equipment-monitoring and automation.
Komatsu America, a heavy equipment manufacturer, has qualified to operate an autonomous haulage system (AHS) using private LTE mobile broadband technology, a first for the mining industry.
Komatsu’s FrontRunner AHS allows unmanned operation of ultra-class mining trucks, which are designed improve mine-site safety, reduce costs, and increase productivity.
The company completed a year-long qualification program on Nokia’s Future X infrastructure. The industry is moving away from less predictable wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi, and toward private LTE networks, that improve security, capacity, and overall performance within a multi-application environment, according to a Komatsu official.
In November of last year, Nokia unveiled “Future X for industries,” which is a strategy and architecture to increase productivity across industrial sectors. The strategy, which will span both advanced LTE and 5G will exploit multiple technologies including industrial internet of things (IIoT), distributed (edge) cloud, augmented intelligence, augmented and virtual reality.
Kathrin Buvac, president of Nokia Enterprise, said, “Private LTE is a key element in the Nokia Bell Labs Future X architecture to help industries such as mining create an intelligent, dynamic, high-performance network that increases the safety, productivity and efficiency of their business.”