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Private LTE/5G: An Answer to Dedicated Device Connectivity for Enterprises
Amit Manocha Solution Architect | August 27, 2020
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I still remember my first assignment when I developed a vehicle tracking system that used 8051 microcontroller programmers to connect to GSM mobile phone, with GPS coordinates sent over SMS. Due to the unavailability of Google Maps, I had to scan map images. Later, I went around Ring Road to collect location data and finally developed an algorithm to convert world coordinates to screen coordinates. Let me quote another example of the early 2000s: In one of my discussions with a pacemaker specialist, I learned that the heart specialists examined battery parameters as the first step before they went for a routine heart examination.  During that time a telemetry wand was used to collect heart parameters from transplanted pacemakers. The telemetry wand had a wired connection with a programmer where parameters were displayed.

Both these examples establish the fact that enterprises identified the need for dedicated device connectivity at a very early stage. However, the cost of setting up robust connectivity infrastructure was very high. Human communication infrastructure (Broadband, 2G, 3G, and LTE) followed later. After that, ecosystem players conducted trials to fulfill the needs of device communication over human communication infrastructure, which revealed that the device communication needs were quite different when compared to human communication needs.

Ecosystem players learned that these devices were designed to send data either on a fixed time interval or as a response to an event. At times, these devices were installed in a deep indoor environment where dedicated power supply arrangement was a challenge. Hence, these devices required battery-powered options to be functional. To summarize, failure of data communication not only resulted in critical functionality failure, it had a toll on the battery power budget due the re-trial of sending a message.

Communication experts tried to solve this problem by adapting some short-range communication technologies along with existing backhaul networks. However, they did not get much success. The big and reliable step toward solving this problem was the introduction of LPWAN (Low Power Wide Area Networks). These LPWAN networks are good in range, provide indoor coverage, and are very well suited for data as sending intervals are less frequent  . LPWAN could, however, only solve the problem partly, the other requirements such as high-speed and faster response of mission-critical applications required a different network. Wi-Fi and public LTE are managing the same along with human communication needs with some limitations in service parameters such as coverage, control, capacity, and QoS. Also, these networks do not guarantee service delivery.

Now the next goal is to get the single dedicated device communication network that can fulfill the ultra-low latency or low power needs for different use cases. The feature-rich 5G i supports ultra-low latency and Low power and it also has network slice feature.

The network slicing considerably transforms the entire perspective of networking by abstracting, isolating, orchestrating, and separating the logical network components from the underlying physical network resources.

The 5G Network

Figure 1: The 5G Network for Dedicated Enterprise Device Connectivity

The network slicing considerably transforms the entire perspective of networking by abstracting, isolating, orchestrating, and separating the logical network components from the underlying physical network resources. These examples highlight the benefits of network slice:

  1. Remote surgery: In early 2019, the first 5G-powered tele-mentored operation was performed by Dr. Antonio de Lacy in Spain. During the operation, the 5G connection had a lag time of just 0.01 seconds.
  2. Autonomous Drones: Percepto developed   the “Drone-In-a-Box” (DIB) solution over the 5G trial network. This solution operates with no need for human intervention for applications such as real-time surveillance. The same DIB with workflow management can fulfill the needs of other opportunities such as analytics-based inspection, disaster recovery, and consignment delivery.
  3. Vehicle to Everything (V2X): A technology where information from sensors and other sources travels via high-bandwidth, low-latency, high-reliability links, paving the way to fully autonomous driving. V2x’s primary goal is to improve road safety and achieve zero death due to road accidents. Several trials are going on V2X over 5G network slice.
  4. IoT Slices: Utility, medical wearables, and banking sectors are also looking for dedicated network slice to manage their mission-critical applications over a secure channel.
  5. Industry 4.0: Manufacturing is one of the segments that requires support on diversified use cases such as ultra-low latency, high speed, power efficiency, and deep indoor coverage, along with better capacity planning, control, and security. Network slicing can solve this problem as well. The network slice can provide much better support on AR/VR use cases such as remote assistance, shop-floor monitoring activities, training, and field support services. With the advent of Telco MEC  , the need for additional edge gateway will become obsolete as AI/ML models can be run over Telco MEC.

The 5G Network

Figure 2: Private LTE/5G Connectivity in Manufacturing

5G has a huge potential to transform the business and open up potential opportunities as well. The fact remains that 5G trials are still going on and full 5G network features will be available in 3GPP R18n by 2022. Post-R18, it will take another 1-1.5 years to establish a mature device ecosystem. Meanwhile, enterprises are looking for a way to get the dedicated device network connectivity with existing infrastructure. The possible path is Private LTE networks.

Private LTE network is a local LTE network that utilizes dedicated radio equipment to service a premise with specific IoT applications and services. The use of dedicated equipment allows it to be independent of traffic fluctuation in the wide-area macro network. By focusing on specific IoT applications and services, the private LTE network can be tailored for an optimized performance with low latency.

Here are some of the features of Private LTE:

  • Coverage: Private LTE supports deep-indoor, indoor, or outdoor coverage, and is designed with respect to end-device location. Oil and gas, and underground mining segments can take maximum benefit from this reliable coverage.
  • Capacity: Private LTE not only offers flexibility but also makes full and exclusive use of capacity. It allows configuration of uplink and downlink, setting usage policy, and engineering the RAN (Radio Access Network) to specific capacity demands.
  • Control: Private LTE allows complete use-case management by providing visibility of resource utilization and traffic prioritization. Additionally, if required, parameters in the LTE radio can also be customized to optimize reliability and latency. For example, one use case requires low latency to perform a mission-critical operation and another use case requires only-data transmission. In this scenario, the radio parameter configuration and network policy implementation fulfills the requirements of both the use-cases. Such kinds of controls are not possible with other technologies.
  • QoS (Quality of Service): LTE QoS model allows for multiple layers of prioritization and  Guaranteed Bit Rate (GBR), supporting preemption. GBR is the primary requirement for video analytics solutions. Preemption can provide exclusive priority to mission-critical operation needs. 
  • Security: Private LTE has an inheritance of LTE security framework, which uses multiple layers:
    1. NAS (Non-Access Stratum) security between MME (Mobility Management Entity) and UE (User Equipment) whereas AS (Access Stratum) security is UE and eNodeB
    2. Integrity protection: Receiver can verify that the received message is the same as that the sender/transmitter sent.
    3. Use IPSec to secure connections between elements of the RAN (Radio Access Network) and the EPC (Evolved Packet Core).

The popular private networks are CBRS (Citizen Broadband Radio Service) and Multefire. CBRS operates on 3.5 GHz in a shared spectrum and is only applicable to the US region, while Multefire operates on 5Ghz of unlicensed spectrum and serves worldwide. Besides, private LTE can also be deployed in a licensed spectrum in agreement with the mobile network operator .

Enterprises have started adopting Private LTE to be in a competitive advantage state, giving them a head start. Hence, use cases where stability and predictability are important, can be managed with private LTE.

Private LTE is feature-rich and suitable for industrial and enterprise use cases. It is a proven and mature technology. Enterprises have started adopting private LTE for a competitive edge, giving them a head start. Hence, use cases where stability and predictability are important can be managed with private LTE, and as and when the 5G ecosystem will be ready, migration will not take much time. However, by that time, organizations will overcome the initial hiccup of technology adaptation.