Why deploying private LTE networks is a safe bet

Why deploying private LTE networks is a safe bet

11 May 2020 | Phil Siveter

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Phil Siveter

Blog Author | head of UK&I enterprise & public sector, Nokia Networks

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Networks are the foundations upon which industry 4.0 is to be built.

The fusion of physical and virtual infrastructure, the interconnectivity of devices in critical communications and the need for security and regulation compliance has kick-started a rapid digital transformation that will soon scale with the roll out of 5G.

However, with this new technology yet to be made widely available, and a strong desire to replace insufficient network architecture, there is one key challenge that CTO's will face; hold out for 5G or choose 4.9G/LTE? This article will explore the merits of 4.9G/LTE as a reliable, stable and secure next-generation network infrastructure that will serve to put vendors on the road to industry 4.0.

Why is digitalisation in industry important?

Digitalisation powers industrial automation, increases business efficiencies, improves safety and enhances market agility. Industry 4.0 allows industries to fuse physical and digital processes by connecting all sensors, machines and workers in a flexible way. To avoid reaching limitations for Industry 4.0-grade applications, processes must no longer be tethered to a wired network infrastructure.

Wireless solutions that come from the IT world, such as Wifi, can be adapted to industrial applications but face severe limitations, making them ill-suited to meet future requirements. Although they are well adapted to day-to-day business communications, they are limited in reliability, security, predictable performance, multi- user capacity and mobility - all features which are required for operational applications that are business-or mission-critical.

Spectrum options

Fortunately, 3GPP technologies, such as 4.9G/LTE and 5G, are available in configurations suited to building industrial-strength private wireless networks to support Industry 4.0. They bring the best features of wireless and cable connectivity and have proven their capabilities both in large consumer mobile networks and in many industrial segments.

Until recently, LTE technology was reserved for mobile operators who hold the vast share of LTE radio spectrum. But in response to pressure from industry and as a way to stimulate their country’s industrial competitiveness, many governments and mobile operators are now releasing new LTE spectrum specially designated for private networks.

In the United States, the Federal Communications Commission established the shared commercial use of the Citizen Band Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. CBRS can be implemented by enterprises for stand- alone campus networks, or by mobile operators to offer private LTE as a service to enterprises. Other governments are opening similar spectrum bands for the use of industry.

Reliability, predictability and security

A secure and contained cable environment is hard to beat in terms of reliability and security and will continue to be used for many fixed assets in industrial campuses. Nonetheless, 4.9G/LTE, and 5G in the future, are similarly reliable, predictable and secure, while being both wireless and mobile. Compared to Wi-Fi, 4.9G/LTE provides the most predictable performance (latency and data rate). and has the highest multi-user capacity.

4.9G/LTE and 5G, unlike Wi-Fi and Bluetooth (which are easily hackable), have been designed from the ground up to be secure. They use end-to-end encryption with strong cyphers at the air interface and IPsec for data transport. No public LTE network has ever been compromised — and this has been rigorously tested by public safety agencies that use LTE for mission-critical emergency communications.

Another key concern is reach. For industrial automation applications in manufacturing facilities, open pit mines, ports and power utilities, an LTE network can cover areas up to 20,000km2. Whether in a high ceiling environment (most industrial campuses) or outdoors, the number of LTE cells can be significantly lower than with Wi-Fi.

When looking at the feasibility of adding IoT sensors to industrial processes,  Wi-Fi and Bluetooth impose much higher power requirements on connecting devices and sensors than LTE, which has new standards that define new low- data-rate device classes (LTE-M and NB-IoT). So, either they need connecting to the grid (a problem if you are trying to add sensors inside an older machine) or use batteries that do not last very long. The ability to connect thousands of workers, devices and sensors per LTE small cell without installing additional wiring can more than offset the upfront investment required for a private LTE network.

Wait for 5G or go with LTE?

With all the buzz surrounding 5G, it is fair to ask the question about whether it makes sense to wait for 5G or to invest now in 4.9G/LTE? Research shows that 85–90 percent of today’s industrial applications can be run on LTE.

This is the reason why many large enterprises that are keen to embrace Industry 4.0 are deploying private LTE networks today, as they believe it will give them a competitive advantage and a strong head start when 5G becomes available.

Today 4G.9/LTE technology is reliably powering 4Bn+ mobile subscribers globally, with home-like, fixed-line broadband data rates. It has proven its performance in many challenging and tough environments; think, for instance, of the capacity requirement of stadiums with more than 100,000 spectators, or next-generation public safety networks with very stringent security and confidentiality requirements.

Conclusion

When looking to address the important question of  how to cost- effectively, reliably and securely connect all sensors and devices together for industry 4.0, 4.9G/LTE and 5G, in the near future, have been specifically designed to do the job.

What makes this especially exciting is that 4.9G/LTE is a field-proven and pressure- tested technology with a mature ecosystem. So, although it may represent a new and game-changing opportunity for many enterprise users, it doesn’t have as many risks as new technologies often do.

Private 4.9G/LTE networks are the next generation of industrial wireless technologies and are available now. They already provide the control, security and agility that industries need to get their Industry 4.0 transformation underway, and they will continue to play a key role even as 5G is introduced to handle the most demanding use cases as they develop.