Private LTE/5G, An Answer to Dedicated Device Connectivity for Enterprises
(September 21, 2020)
I still remember my first assignment when I developed a vehicle tracking system that used 8051 microcontroller programmers to connect to GSM mobile phone, with GPS coordinates sent over SMS. Due to the unavailability of Google Maps, I had to scan map images. Later, I went around Ring Road to collect location data and finally developed an algorithm to convert world coordinates to screen coordinates. Let me quote another example of the early 2000s: In one of my discussions with a pacemaker specialist, I learned that the heart specialists examined battery parameters as the first step before they went for a routine heart examination. During that time a telemetry wand was used to collect heart parameters from transplanted pacemakers. The telemetry wand had a wired connection with a programmer where parameters were displayed.
Both these examples establish the fact that enterprises identified the need for dedicated device connectivity at a very early stage. However, the cost of setting up robust connectivity infrastructure was very high. Human communication infrastructure (Broadband, 2G, 3G, and LTE) followed later. After that, ecosystem players conducted trials to fulfill the needs of device communication over human communication infrastructure, which revealed that the device communication needs were quite different when compared to human communication needs.
Ecosystem players learned that these devices were designed to send data either on a fixed time interval or as a response to an event. At times, these devices were installed in a deep indoor environment where dedicated power supply arrangement was a challenge. Hence, these devices required battery-powered options to be functional. To summarize, failure of data communication not only resulted in critical functionality failure, it had a toll on the battery power budget due to the re-trial of sending a message.
Communication experts tried to solve this problem by adopting some short-range communication technologies along with existing backhaul networks. However, they did not get much success. The big and reliable step toward solving this problem was the introduction of LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks). These LPWAN networks are good in range, provide indoor coverage, and are very well suited for data as sending intervals are less frequent. LPWAN could, however, only solve the problem partly, the other requirements such as the high-speed and faster response of mission-critical applications required a different network. Wi-Fi and public LTE are managing the same along with human communication needs with some limitations in service parameters such as coverage, control, capacity, and QoS. Also, these networks do not guarantee service delivery.
Now the next goal is to get the single dedicated device communication network that can fulfill the needs of ultra-low latency as well as low power use cases. 5G is a big step towards that which is feature-rich like network slice & support for IoT use cases. The benefit of network slicing is to considerably transform the entire perspective of networking by abstracting, isolating, orchestrating, and separating the logical network components from the underlying physical network resources. Some of the below examples can through light on network slice benefit:
Remote surgery: In early 2019 the first 5G-powered tele mentored operation was performed by Dr. Antonio de Lacy in Spain. During the operation, the 5G connection had a lag time of just 0.01 seconds
Autonomous Drones Percepto developed the “Drone-In-a-Box” (DIB) solution over the 5G trial network. This solution operates with no need for human intervention for applications such as real-time surveillance. The same DIB with workflow management can fulfill the needs of other opportunities like Analytics based Inspection, Disaster recovery & Consignment delivery.
Vehicle to Everything(V2X) is a technology where information from sensors and other sources travels via high-bandwidth, low-latency, high-reliability links, paving the way to fully autonomous driving. V2x prime goal is to improve road safety & achieve zero death on road accidents. Several trials are going on V2X over 5G network slice.
IoT Slices: Utility, Medical wearables & Banking sectors are also looking for dedicated network slice to manage their mission-critical applications over a secure channel.
Industry 4.0: Manufacturing is one of the segments which requires support on diversified use cases like ultra-low latency, high speed, power-efficient as well as deep indoor coverage along with better capacity planning, control & security. Hence network slicing can solve that problem as well. The network slice can provide much better support on AR/VR use cases like Remote assistance, Shop floor monitoring activities, Training & Field support services. With the advent of Telco MEC, the need for additional edge gateway will become obsolete as AI/ML models can be run over Telco MEC.
5G has a lot of potentials to transform the business & It is capable of opening up new potential opportunities for the enterprise as well. The other remaining fact is that 5G trials are still going on & full 5G network features will be available in R18 by 2022. Post R18, it will take another 1-1.5 years to establish a mature device ecosystem. Now the enterprise is looking for a way to get the dedicated device network connectivity with existing infrastructure. The possible path is Private LTE networks.
Private LTE network is a local LTE network that is utilizing dedicated radio equipment to service a premise with specific IoT applications and services. The use of dedicated equipment allows it to be independent of traffic fluctuation in the wide-area macro network. By focusing on specific IoT applications and services, the private LTE network can be tailored for more optimized performance and also achieve low latency.
Here are some of the features of Private LTE:
The popular Private networks are CBRS(Citizen Broadband Radio Service) & Multefire. CBRS operates on 3.5 GHz in a shared spectrum and applicable to the US region only while Multefire operates on 5Ghz of unlicensed spectrum and serves worldwide besides that Private LTE can also be deployed in a licensed spectrum with the agreement of the mobile network operator.
Private LTE is feature-rich and suitable for industrial and enterprise use cases. It is a proven and mature technology. Enterprises have started adopting private LTE for a competitive edge, giving them a head start. Hence, use cases where stability and predictability are important can be managed with private LTE, and as and when the 5G ecosystem will be ready, migration will not take much time. However, by that time, organizations will overcome the initial hiccup of technology adaptation.
Author: Amit Manocha , Private LTE/5G, LPWAN (LoRaWAN & NB-IOT) expert , IoT Solution Architect & Certified Data Science Professional