What are some examples of private LTE use cases?
Emerging private LTE technologies are seen as a middle ground between enterprise-class Wi-Fi and relying on commercial carrier LTE networks: providing broadband data capabilities with mobility and roaming capabilities, SIM-based security and other features to support connectivity for internet of things devices and human end users. Here are some private LTE use cases that are being explored:
–Mining. Mining operations face a number of challenges when it comes to connectivity, because they often operate in remote areas with little to no cellular coverage and have complicated network needs — such as being able to extend communications underground.
Ericsson and Canadian private network provider Ambra Solutions recently provided a private LTE solution for connectivity at the Agnico Eagle gold mining site, LaRonde in Abitibi, Quebec. The system, completed in late 2017, enables connectivity at a depth of three kilometers underground.
According to a Qualcomm white paper on private LTE, mining conglomerate Rio Tinto of Australia was one of the first large enterprises to use a private LTE network for commercial operations at scale. Rio Tinto used private LTE to cover 15 mines and related facilities including transportation hubs and railways. That particular solution made use of 1800 MHz spectrum under a special arrangement from local regulators.
– Networks for shipping warehouses and hubs. United Parcel Service, which operates 900 MHz private land-mobile radio at its hub facilities, said in comments to the Federal Communications Commission last year that it supports a proposal to realign narrowband 900 MHz spectrum to allow broadband uses, including private LTE, in order to expand its technology options. In its FCC comment, UPS laid out the reasons why private LTE could potentially meet its communication needs in ways that commercial carrier networks do not.
“Current [LTE network] providers are understandably more focused on the typical consumer’s needs,” UPS said in its 2017 comments. “UPS is a heavy user of commercial LTE services throughout many parts of our business, but for mission-critical communications at many of our larger facilities, no existing LTE service provider to date has been willing or able to guarantee contractually the service levels we require. As a result, private trunked radio systems are the only option available today for meeting this critical business need.”
Although UPS said there was no guarantee that it would end up going with private LTE if the option was available, the company was generally supportive of the concept because it would expand its network technology options — and introduced the possibility of roaming onto commercial networks.
“Today, UPS’s trunked radio systems are typically designed only to provide coverage within the geographic boundaries of our facilities,” UPS said. “That said, there are times when it would be advantageous for users on our private trunked radio networks to have the ability to ‘roam’ onto a wide-area commercial network.”
–Fixed wireless access. Private LTE as a FWA technology is the focus of a number of CBRS trials. With 150 MHz of spectrum available in some markets — particularly in rural, non-coastal areas — CBRS could provide a viable FWA spectrum option for private LTE networks to serve enterprises or residential customers. This opens up a new option for wireless broadband services in lieu of a mobile virtual network operator arrangement with one of the national carriers and could be done on either an unlicensed General Authorized Access or Priority Access License basis in the CBRS framework.
During a discussion at ConnectX, Mike Hart, CTO of Vivint Internet and SVP Engineering for Vivint Smart HomeMike Hart and Federated Wireless CEO Iyad Tarazi discussed Vivint’s tests of CBRS technology to provide private LTE FWA that complements Vivint’s smart home offerings. Meanwhile, network infrastructure provider ExteNet has been testing CBRS for two years, and its projects include deploying a CBRS-ready FWA network for Paladin Wireless, a wireless internet service provider in northeastern Georgia; and for Peak Internet, a Colorado WISP serving Colorado Springs and Pike’s Peak. Both of those networks were deployed using 3.65 GHz spectrum, which WISPs already use, with the ability to do a software-only upgrade to CBRS 3.5 GHz in the future.
–Utilities. Utility companies already typically operate their own private networks, but they are often narrowband voice-based, as opposed to supporting broadband technologies. Those networks can cover multiple states and may consist of multiple technologies as companies grow through acquisitions. According to a Navigant Research white paper, modern utilities sometimes manage up to a dozen different networks. Private LTE has the potential to simplify utilities’ communications networks across their geographic footprints, while increasing the available capacity and available bandwidth for human or IoT application usage.
Navigant expects the number of connected devices on utility networks to increase by at least an order of magnitude, and for the volume of data from each device to also increase — while at the same time, other, non-utility devices in unlicensed spectrum are projected to jump by more than 400%. Navigant said that the combination of those two pressures is helping to drive the interest in private LTE networks.
In a case study published in UTC Journal (pdf), a publication of the Utilities Technology Council, utility company Duke Energy, which operates in the Carolinas, Florida, Ohio, Indiana and Kentucky, ultimately concluded that in addition to its distribution and transmission grid and traffic from its customer-facing and utility generation operations, it effectively had a “third grid”: its communications infrastructure. That third grid required a company-wide capital investment strategy similar to what the company had in place for its power facilities, Duke decided. When Duke took the time to develop a comprehensive communications network strategy, one of its conclusions was that “it is time to plan the transition to next-generation cellular technology.”
Looking for more information on CBRS and private LTE? Register for the upcoming RCR Wireless News editorial webinar on the topic, to be held July 18th at 2 p.m. EST. We will publish our editorial special report the same day.