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Leverage a More Reliable and Controllable Network with Private LTE

Private LTE networks will help enterprises increase in-building capacity, provide a better end user experience and begin to leverage the Internet of Things for industrial applications or smart cities, while also preparing them for the broader adoption of 5G.

December 11, 2020 8 minute read

A proliferation of connected machines, devices and people in the workplace is putting tremendous strain on traditional networking solutions, such as Wi-Fi, and forcing organizations to explore new ways  to handle the massive bandwidth increase.

This paradigm will only accelerate as consumers and businesses alike adopt more digital-centric strategies that will be enabled by 5G network connectivity.

Private LTE networks, which provide unique wireless connectivity capabilities for a specific place or business, will play an important part in easing this burden.

For businesses with small footprints, Wi-Fi will get the job done. But for organizations with large geographical footprints — think companies with disparate buildings, higher education institutions with sprawling campuses, or manufacturers in remote locations or with dense plant operations — they’ll require a more controllable, cost-effective network that bolsters security while providing a wider and more reliable coverage area to enhance productivity and foster innovation.

Private LTE, according to a Harbor Research report, enables users and customers to integrate diverse sensors, machines, people, vehicles and more across a wide range of applications and usage scenarios. It treats user concerns — from reliability and service quality, to security and compliance — as challenges that can be addressed by a single, scalable wireless networking solution.

Further, the feature-rich nature of private LTE can provide a roadmap that will make the transition to 5G more seamless.

What is Private LTE? 

LTE — or Long Term Evolution — is the access part of the Evolved Packet System (EPS) that provides high spectral efficiency, high peak data rates, short trip time and flexibility in frequency and bandwidth.

Private LTE networks are, as one may assume, privately owned and managed locally with dedicated equipment for local coverage that is optimized for specific services as required by the entity deploying the network. 

Broadly speaking, benefits fall into three buckets:  Coverage, cost and control. 

  • Cost-effective: The long-range capabilities associated with private LTE are attainable with minimal infrastructure footprint, thereby leading to reduced deployment costs.
  • Security: More layers of information security inherent in LTE architecture. Cellular-based security for both SIM and non-SIM credentials, locally routed traffic for privacy.
  • Speed: Private LTE delivers reduced latency to support high bandwidth applications, such as HD video surveillance.
  • Capacity: Low to high data rate applications, large number of devices.
  • Reliability and lower latency: Industry grade reliability, customized quality of service, guaranteed latency.
  • Future proof: Rich LTE roadmap and evolution to 5G, including ultra-reliable low latency communications. Offers configurable quality of service which is ideal for mission-critical lifeline and production-critical automation use cases.
  • Interoperability: Global standard and certification enable interoperability between suppliers.
  • Seamless mobility: Seamless handovers, high mobility devices, service continuity with WAN.
  • Coverage: Superior range, both indoors and outdoors.

Who uses private LTE? 

Historically, LTE networks have been publicly available and managed by a service provider with shared equipment to deliver wide-area coverage for generic voice and data services. However, advances in technology and access to new spectrum bands, such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), have opened the door for any organization to deploy a wholly owned and operated private LTE cellular network that is fast, efficient, reliable and secure.

Private LTE networks, according to a Heavy Reading report, are mostly designed with machine communications as the primary use case in mind, therefore initial use cases tend to be mostly in the Industry 4.0 (manufacturing, utilities, etc.) and mission-critical services (public safety, government, smart city) realms.

Several organizations around the world, as identified by Sierra Wireless, have already deployed or are exploring private LTE. They include: 

But private LTE can also support IoT, control signaling or smartphone users all on a common infrastructure, meaning the value is applicable to a wide range of companies in search of a more reliable quality of experience than Wi-Fi. 

What is CBRS? 

Leveraging the value of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) can greatly enhance this effort. CBRS is a shareable band of the 3.5GHz spectrum created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015.

Read More: Making Sense of CBRS: The ‘Goldilocks Spectrum’ 

The FCC’s decision to open the 3.5 GHz band for shared use means organizations and service providers alike can stand up private LTE networks to enhance coverage and deliver services. 

And, according to a white paper from Harbor Research, those who develop the private LTE market will inherently drive the next steps towards 5G via investment in the distributed network infrastructure. As technologies mature and open standards become the norm, applications based on deeper interactions among devices, systems and people will drive more compound and dynamic value streams.

Private LTE challenges

CBRS will lower the barrier of entry for digital leaders in all industry verticals to deploy private LTE networks. But enterprises aren’t network operators. Private LTE deployments will require the integration of various components to make it easy to manage on an ongoing basis. 

Private LTE, although more powerful than Wi-Fi, will also be more complicated to deploy and manage, requiring the help of systems integrators to  design, source, integrate, deploy and operate.  

Technical components include: 

  • Indoor/outdoor radios
  • Server infrastructure
  • Virtualized gateways
  • Transport network elements
  • End-user devices (IoT gateways, branch routers, etc.)

Of course, wireless connectivity is just a catalyst for productivity. Identifying and pursuing the appropriate customer or employee applications — and understanding how they help those groups achieve outcomes or drive productivity — will be important for adoption and success.

Where do service providers fit in?

Private LTE networks will help enterprises tap into an array of advantages already listed above. But what happens when employees or customers begin hopping to and from buildings? Or leave a campus altogether? 

As powerful as private networking options may be, they’ll still need to seamlessly plug into public operator networks to make sure people and machines have access to the applications, resources and materials they need to perform their job.

Service providers are well positioned to approach this opportunity from end to end in order to deliver a seamless mobility experience — moving from private to public networks and back again without disruption like the way consumers move from cell tower to cell tower without knowing the difference.

For operators, providing private networks can squeeze more ROI out of a given geographical area. For their enterprise customers, buying a private LTE network from a service provider can avoid the headache of managing a network and avoid service disruptions when roaming from coverage area to coverage area.

Additional use cases for service providers related to private LTE include: 

  • Fixed wireless: Operators can utilize the private LTE spectrum to provide residential and enterprise broadband services to rural or remote areas.
  • Capacity augmentation: Mobile network operators can leverage private LTE spectrum for expanding capacity and coverage as well as building out their 5G network.
  • Mobile wireless services: With private LTE spectrum, cable MSOs can deploy MSO-owned mobile wireless networks as an entry point to becoming mobile wireless service providers.
  • Neutral host providers: Opportunity for third-party network providers to manage and integrate private LTE deployments with larger public LTE networks.

Will 5G replace private LTE? 

The short answer is no. 5G is designed as an extension of 4G, and the two are designed to work together for the foreseeable future. Think of 5G as the HOV lane for devices and applications that qualify and really need the extra speed, while many others will continue to do just fine in the regular lanes (i.e. 4G/LTE) for years to come.

Further, private LTE will help forge a path toward transitioning to 5G

Unlike previous generations in which 2G was supplanted by 3G, only to be ripped and replaced by 4G, 5G is not replacing anything — at least, not initially. In fact, 4G LTE and 5G will coexist and complement each other for some time as service providers continue to invest in both.

Generally, 5G will follow two deployment models — non-standalone (NSA) and standalone (SA):

Conclusion

Private LTE networks will help enterprises increase their in-building capacity, provide a better end user experience and begin to leverage the Internet of Things for industrial applications or smart cities, while also  preparing them for the broader adoption of 5G.

Service providers can play a key role in delivering this more reliable connectivity in a seamless fashion. 

But successful implementation will be closely knitted to understanding the users of such private networks and the type of services or applications they’d most greatly benefit from. 

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