Private network deployments seen as a key enabler of industrial internet of things for large enterprises
The notion of a private network, whether it’s LTE or 5G deployed in unlicensed, licensed or shared spectrum, is a hot topic in the telecoms world at the moment. Carriers and vendors see a major opportunity to set up bespoke networks in support of not just everyday talk, text and data but for industrial internet of things projects and in service of applications where data sovereignty is paramount.
There are a number of technologies in play here, including LTE in licensed spectrum, standalone LTE in unlicensed spectrum (MulteFire), LTE in shared spectrum (think CBRS for the U.S. market), a slice of a 5G network or even a standalone unlicensed 5G network (MulteFire).
During the recent Connect X event hosted annually by the Wireless Infrastructure Association, industry leaders shared their thoughts on the outlook for private network solutions.
Ericsson made clear earlier this year at Mobile World Congress, as well as more specifically to an industrial audience at Hannover Messe, that it will support private network deployments by selling through its traditional base of operator customers. Nokia, however, said it will support carrier endeavors but will also look to sell directly to end users.
Chris Wallace, a strategic product manager for Ericsson, explained what constitutes a private network. “A lot of it comes down these day to control–control over the data, control over the policy, control over the devices. We do see a lot of traction with…our traditional operators understanding that, you know, there is a need to let go of some of that control; that market dynamics are just that individual enterprises are just not accepting the same business models as they used to. I think there is some evidence of things moving in that direction.”
In an earlier interview with RCR Wireless News, Wallace’s colleague Erik Josefsson, VP and head of advanced industries technologies and new business, acknowledged “some confusion” around the term “private networks” and said penetrating the industrial market requires an “ecosystem not an egosystem.”
He said Ericsson is following a reseller model. “Our service provider that sits on the absolute best spectrum and has many years of experience in introducing new products. We believe our existing customers are in a very unique position sitting with licensed spectrum across the globe.”
In terms of where market demand for private network solutions is coming from, Cradlepoint VP of IoT Strategy and Business Development Ken Hosac offered some color and noted that different enterprises have different needs, largely based on the geographic nature of their business.
“We got started with what we call small footprint distributed enterprise,” he said. “They’re probably not the candidate for private LTE. A lot of times they’re using LTE for a failover. Where we’re seeing the actual uptake in terms of interest, POCs, demand, is with the larger enterprise locations. You get to these large and we call these wide area LANs, like a shipping port or an airport or large warehouse or an enterprise campus or a college campus, a smart city, so again, you’re trying to create this LAN around something that is a large physical size.”
He gave the example of a port facility looking to leverage connectivity for things like autonomous guided vehicles, remotely operated cranes and surveillance cameras. “They’re all related to the shipping port. The shipping port wants to be able to control that, have a better experience. The bottomline is the customers who are really interested in this are struggling to use Wi-Fi to address those requirements and those are the ones that have that immediate need today.”
In terms of private networks that tap unlicensed spectrum, right now in Japan MulteFire is supporting a range of connectivity needs in the 1.9 GHz band. The MulteFire Alliance was formed to extend the use of cellular in unlicensed from a carrier aggregation mode to a standalone mode.
MulteFire Alliance member Karim El Malki, also the president of Athonet USA, said MulteFire provides a superior alternative to Wi-Fi and will continue to evolve from LTE to 5G. ““We’ve heard it before—it’s security, you need something that is different from Wi-Fi, you need the control, you need the reliability, you need a system that has been completely designed from scratch. It could look like LTE and 5G. I think MulteFire goes in that direction.”
To the idea of extending the MulteFire premise from LTE to 5G New Radio, the 3GPP is working on study items for what’s called NR-U with both non-standalone and standalone modes of operation in the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands.
Qualcomm is leading that push in the standards body. Cameron McCaskill, Qualcomm’s senior director of business development for the industrial internet of things, shared his take on what it means that 3GPP is considering unlicensed operation at such an early point in the evolution of 5G NR.
“The fact that they’re actually considering standalone in unlicensed bands with 5G is is actually quite incredible,” he said. “It opens up a lot of new opportunities we think. So obviously 5 GHz is gonna be a hot topic there, 6 GHz, this is all looking like this is gonna be part of release 16. So then you can kind of look at historically and what does that mean in terms of chips, what’s that mean in terms of products that are actually deployable? But we think that 5G technology in these unlicensed bands will be very exciting. In fact they’re gonna do it without a licensed anchor you know from the get-go in the spec is actually quite quite amazing to us.”
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