Various analysis reports place the value of the private network market at around $3.5B in 2020 and growing at about 13% per year. Where are these networks and what are they used for? And why do customers install them? In a different article, we addressed the question of where these networks are and what industries are using them. In this article, we look at the advantages of private LTE/5G networks over other technologies.
We will start with the assumption that you have a “use case” for a large-scale wireless network. You have a lot of devices, equipment, monitoring systems, etc., installed over a large area, or moving about, and you need a way to read data from that equipment and send messages to control it. Or maybe you have a large number of workers scattered around a large facility who need a way to communicate, especially if the facility is in an area with poor cellular coverage. Typical use cases are:
- oil/gas fields
- manufacturing and chemical processing facilities
- utility networks
- mines (open and underground)
- sea ports, airports, rail yards
Up until now, you are probably getting by with some mix of the following technologies:
- WiFi. You run some recent variant of 802.11, a technology originally intended as a replacement for Ethernet cables in an office environment.
- Cellular. You get some SIMs from your local MNO, if the coverage is good enough. Maybe you have some modem modules. Maybe you even have employees just using their personal devices.
- LMR. Land Mobile Radio. Narrow-band push-to-talk radios, sometimes supported by repeaters.
- Point-to-point radio links. Sometimes used for data transmission to/from fixed remote locations, often used for video cameras.
- Wired networks. For fixed devices in denser areas, just run cables for data.
- Sneaker-net. Have people walk or drive through the facility collecting data with handheld terminals.
Or maybe you are using a mix of these.
What is in a Private Network
The private network has these parts:
- the “core network”, which authenticates devices and connects them to
- larger data networks (like your facility’s local network, or the Internet) and
- voice networks (like to your local PBX, or the public telephone network)
- the devices served by the network
- handsets, like ordinary smartphones, or special “ruggedized” industrial handsets
- modem modules, for machine-to-machine (M2M) communication, also called “IoT modules”
- the “radio access network” (the “RAN”), which is the set of basestations that send and receive the radio signals that connect served devices to the core network
Advantages of Private Networks
What are the advantages of LTE/5G over the legacy technologies that are already used in different industries?
Unlike WiFi, cellular networks were designed for large, complex environments. LTE/5G has better performance, better reliability, and better security.
- Traffic prioritization and QoS management. Cellular networks have well-developed mechanisms for prioritizing different traffic types and enforcing QoS in the radio layer. This allows high-priority control messages and alerts to take precedence over routine measurements, for example.
- Improved range. Because of the higher power levels and lower operating frequencies, most private LTE/5G networks have much larger range than WiFi. For CBRS, this range improvement is about 4x.
- More real-world capacity. Radio channel scheduling is about 4x as efficient in LTE/5G as in WiFi. For CBRS, the overall capacity improvement is 2x.
- Improved reliability. Centralized radio channel scheduling in LTE/5G avoids the “hidden node” problem and allows private networks to handle a larger number of devices, even in cluttered environments. Controlled spectrum also avoids interference problems.
- Real security. LTE/5G has more complete security procedures than WiFi, including per-device mutual authentication, per-device authorization, segregation of traffic between users, and cryptographic signatures built into the radio protocol. Unlike WiFi, a single rogue device cannot “sniff” the entire network, and network spoofing in LTE/5G extremely difficult.
- Smooth handovers. In a properly designed network, handovers between radios are fast and reliable, with no interruption of the IP connection for moving devices.
- Proper accounting. Private cellular networks can integrate with accounting systems to record per-device activity and usage, like in commercial cellular networks. This is useful when a single network is shared by multiple organizations.
Versus public cellular networks
Private LTE/5G networks use the same technology as cellular operators, but owning that technology yourself can give you a more faster, more reliable network.
- Local data flows. If the private network has a locally-installed core network, all private network data stays on-site, for lower latency and better security.
- Improved coverage. The private network signal reaches places the public network cannot. The network coverage can be designed to match the site.
- Improved device management. You have direct access to communication between the embedded device and the core network and more detailed network-side device performance measurements, which can simplify trouble-shooting when devices or applications misbehave.
- Use the devices you need. In a private network, you do not need to wait for your MNO to certify your IoT devices. If it works for your use case, you can use it.
- Known IP addresses. You know and can control the IP address of every device in your network, which may be expensive or impossible with a public cellular network.
- Lower TCO. The cost of maintaining your private network is probably lower than the service charges with your MNO.
LTE/5G lets you replace your existing PTT radios with ruggedized smart phones, opening the way for new applications.
- Data, including video. LMR is designed for voice. LTE/5G can handle voice, video, images, and any other data type.
- License. Getting a license for CBRS is probably easier that getting one for LMR in most areas. Although in some places, an existing LMR license can be converted for private network operation.
- Improved capacity. In the same bandwidth, LTE/5G can handle more call traffic than LMR.
If you need to support a large number of users and devices in a large facility, a private LTE/5G network offers big advantages over whatever technology you are using now. For more information on private networks and how to get started, you can read more about our services, or contact us directly at firstname.lastname@example.org or fill out the contact form below.