A new vision for the future of wireless technology is presenting manufacturers, transport hubs, mining, and utility centres with the chance to not only save time and money but also save lives through improved latency – welcome to the era of private LTE and 5G networks.
The previous legacy private networks were adequate for connecting laptops to the Internet and other limited Industrial IoT (IIoT) use cases. However, the coverage and security limitations of these networks, their incompatibility with public cellular networks, as well as their high ongoing management costs, made it difficult for organizations to use these networks for many IIoT applications.
“For many of the world’s largest businesses, a private 5G network will likely become the preferred choice, especially for industrial environments such as manufacturing plants, logistics centers, and ports with high numbers of devices with critical data and latency requirements”, says Mark Harris, SME Core Networks, VirtuGrp.
Recently, a new type of private networks – private cellular networks that use 4G Long Term Evolution (LTE) and 5G technologies – have begun to be deployed by many companies. Because these networks use cellular technologies and are compatible with public cellular networks, they offer organizations many of the coverage, security, and other capabilities they need for more advanced IIoT applications.
In addition, the long-term management costs for these networks are often lower than other wireless technologies.
However, organizations face many questions as they consider whether they should deploy a private LTE or 5G network, including how these private networks work and what are specific advantages they offer over Wi-Fi and other private networks.
What are private 5G and LTE networks?
Private LTE and 5G networks (referred to as “non-public networks” by 3GPP, the mobile telecommunications standards organization) are networks that use licensed, shared, or unlicensed wireless spectrum and LTE or 5G cellular networking base stations, small cells, and other Radio Access Network (RAN) infrastructure to transmit voice and data to edge devices, including smartphones, embedded modules, routers, and gateways.
LTE is a 4G cellular networking technology that offers secure, reliable, and fast connectivity. It is the same technology that you use today when you use your smartphone to call friends and family, check your email, play games, or watch videos.
5G is a new cellular network technology. 5G offers many performance advantages over LTE, including faster data transmission, lower latency, and the ability to connect to more edge devices.
What makes private LTE and private 5G networks better than private Wi-Fi networks?
There are various pros and cons to consider when comparing Wi-Fi vs. private LTE and private 5G networks.
Private LTE and private 5G networks typically require a higher up-front initial investment than Wi-Fi networks. They also require edge devices that have been certified for the wireless spectrum used by their private cellular network. Edge devices also require either a physical or electronic (soft) SIM card for access to the private network.
However, private LTE and private 5G networks offer many advantages over Wi-Fi networks. For example, these types of networks deliver better wireless coverage than Wi-Fi over large geographic areas, underground, and inside buildings or other facilities. LTE and 5G networks are also more secure than Wi-Fi because they encrypt data by default. And private LTE and 5G networks are easier (and thus less expensive) to administer and maintain than Wi-Fi networks.
In addition, because Private LTE and 5G devices use the same technology as public cellular networks, they can hand over to public cellular networks if they leave their private network’s coverage area. For example, a company could still monitor and control an automated forklift after it has crossed the street and moved out of range of its private 5G network if it can hand over to the MNO’s public 5G network.
There are other benefits to using the same network technology as public cellular networks. Companies that are in the process of building a private LTE or 5G network can start off using a public LTE or 5G network to provide connectivity at their facility, and then switch over to their private network after it is fully deployed. In addition, with private LTE and 5G networks, organizations can use public networks as a “backup” if their private network goes down.
The question then comes down to the connectivity use case.
“If the organization wants to provide extensive high-speed coverage to many edge devices over a wide, remote, or underground area whilst ensuring the security and network control, it should consider investing in a private LTE or 5G network,” adds Harris.
Use-cases for private LTE and 5G Networks
Some examples of private LTE and private 5G network use cases include:
- Manufacturing: Manufacturing facilities can use private LTE and 5G networks to connect their Information Technology (IT) systems to their manufacturing equipment, enabling them to deploy automated guided vehicles (AGV), remote machine and robotic control, manufacturing process monitoring, predictive maintenance, and other IIoT applications. In a recent survey by Nokia and ABI Research, 90% of manufacturing decision-makers are investigating the use of either 4G and/or 5G in their operations and 84% of these decision-makers are considering deployment of their own local private 4G/5G wireless network. View an example from Mercedes-Benz in Germany,
- Warehouses: With a private LTE or 5G network, online retailers and warehouse operators can deploy robotic product picking, product tracking, and other IIoT warehouse applications without worrying about dead spots in their warehouse or spending a lot on network maintenance.
- Airports, Train Stations, Stadiums, and other Large Public Venues: Large public venues often need strong coverage both inside their facility and outdoors to support the connectivity needs of their employees, IoT devices, and hundreds to thousands of visitors – private LTE and 5G networks can securely deliver it. View an example of Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris,
- Mining, Oil, and Gas: Private LTE and 5G networks provide mining and energy extraction companies with reliable connectivity they require for IIoT applications that connect to drilling machines, rugged handhelds, and other equipment – even if this equipment is underground or in a remote location. View an example of a mine operated by Boliden in Sweden,
“Our partners and clients from the mining, manufacturing, and utilities industries have come to rely on our expertise and knowledge in this field,” says Harris.
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