The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) brings change to the business model for private networks in the enterprise, from the total cost of the systems to the multiplicity of applications, according to speakers on a panel at the AGL Virtual Summit conducted on Feb. 11. Joe Madden, principal analyst at Mobile Experts, moderated the panel, “5G Technology: Additional Spectrum Encourages Private Network Deployment,” which included Robert Cerbone, vice president of product management and marketing at Communications Technology Services (CTS) and Jim Jacobellis, vice president of partners and business development at Geoverse spoke as panelists. The Summit drew more than 500 online viewers.
Whether the company owns and operates the network versus a third party-owned network-as-a-service affects the business model, Madden said, not to mention the various hybrid approaches in between. He asked the panelists how different verticals viewed this paradigm.
CTS is getting requests for all different kinds of business models, Cerbone said. He said the requests range from a turnkey solution where it constructs the system and turns it over to the customer to a co-managed solution where the customer runs the network, does SIM card management, provisioning, activation, maintenance and monitoring of the equipment, and CTS does the repairs, all the way to a fully managed service.
“Maybe it’s a fully managed service that, over time, we actually migrate into the enterprise’s control once it has developed some familiarity with the platforms,” Cerbone said. “But running a mobile network is above the heads of a lot of these companies.”
The education vertical has been going strong over the last year at CTS, Cerbone said. In a full deployment, it deploys a system for hundreds, if not thousands, of devices to end users, while many industrial deployments are still in the trial stage, he said.
Jacobellis said that the educational vertical is a good example of a group of institutions that don’t have people with cellular expertise in their IT departments. “The model of a fully managed service for them is almost automatic; they need someone to help them,” he said.
In more industrial use cases, companies start by wanting to do it all in-house, but then realize it is more cost-effective to allow another company to take the burden off of their staff, Jacobellis said. “It makes sense for somebody who has years and years of experience working with evolved packet cores and interconnecting mobile network operators to be your managed service partner or your operator partner,” he added.
The total cost of ownership of a DAS, even energy-efficient DAS, is well over $2 per square foot, because of the expense of bringing in the signal source from the carrier, according to Jacobellis. With CBRS, a company has multiple radio options, and the cost goes down to less than 75 cents a square foot.
Madden agreed, saying, “There’s cost savings, of course, when we do things like the automation of the trucks used in the mine or industrial automation, but worker safety has been actually even a bigger driver during COVID. What I’ve seen is private networks that are driving applications like augmented reality for inspections in a factory where someone could actually do their job from home, as opposed to having more people on the production line.”
Cerbone agreed that many COVID-related applications, such as fixed wireless networks, have been installed outside of hospitals in tents where they perform COVID triage. NFL teams, anxious to get fans back into the stadiums, are looking for reliable networks to power contactless ticketing, mobile kiosks and food sales. “These applications are going where there are no wires,” he said. “The flexibility of a wireless network is very valuable.”
Enabling Business Initiatives
Private networks enable applications related to the company’s business initiatives. They allow sensitive information, such as analytical data, to be kept behind the firewall and on the company’s premise, according to Jacobellis.
“The promise to unlock a good chunk of the 40 percent of enterprise and government buildings that lack cellular coverage with CBRS-driven private networks is tremendous,” Jacobellis said.
Cerbone said CTS focuses on in-building connectivity for IoT applications for industrial markets, including the logistic side of manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas.
“We’ve got a CBRS trial in a fulfillment warehouse where we’re connecting some carts used by employees picking and packing orders, with a workforce automation platform,” Cerbone said. “It connects those carts back to a data center server in the facility to provide a robust and reliable connection as they’re walking around the warehouse. Previously, they were trying to run this over Wi-Fi, and really were struggling due to the volume of devices and the lack of a reliable Wi-Fi signal. So that is a great use case.”
Geoverse is focused on several verticals, including factories, hospitality, ports, utilities, campuses and smart cities.
“The big story, beginning in the middle of 2020 and probably in all of 2021, is using these private networks to solve the homework gap,” Jacobellis said. “The reason it’s such a story is that there’s a tremendous amount of federal and grant money allowing more and more schools to put up private networks. Cities are also starting to partner with schools, using their fiber assets and buildings to deploy carrier-grade cell sites to tackle the homework gap.”
The applications of CBRS-driven private networks will improve the community at large, according to Jacobellis, allowing more efficient transportation networks, more efficient traffic light systems, and Wi-Fi hotspots in areas without tearing up concrete for the backhaul. Geoverse is deploying smart city technology in the Navajo Nation, where it is putting more than 100 sites, as well as in big cities.
“This smart city community enablement and all it’s going to mean for communities that may have been kind of behind is really, really exciting,” Jacobellis said. “They’re going to be able to attract jobs and, potentially, universities to their towns because of it.”