Imagine a factory that has hundreds or thousands of machines and devices requiring secure wireless connectivity throughout the premises. This enterprise cannot solely depend on public cellular networks offered by Mobile Network Operators (MNO). To ensure data security and robust operation, the enterprise instead leans on their own private IoT network, operating independently of the public cellular networks. Unfortunately, these companies do not own any spectrum and until now relied on Wi-Fi, ZigBee®/802.15.4, or other 802.11 technologies which are useful but face many limitations as these technologies cannot provide the quality of service, coverage, mobility, security and support that LTE can offer. A new class of network must be enabled to meet the needs of industrial applications and provide a standalone, unified network architecture.
Key Research activities:
Qualcomm Research is designing the technology to enable private LTE networks for industrial IoT. Combining LTE-grade performance with Wi-Fi-like deployment simplicity, we have leveraged 4G LTE air interfaces that primarily use the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) (U.S. 3.5 GHz) band and the unlicensed (5 GHz). Our system could also be deployed on MNO’s licensed spectrum that is locally dedicated to the enterprise. Delivering reliable connectivity in challenging environments, these standalone LTE networks are built to serve devices and users within a localized area but also interface with public LTE when needed, for example, when devices move outside the premises.
We design customizable solutions which enable network owners to operate either LTE or MulteFire networks. MultiFire leverages LTE technology in unlicensed or shared spectrum. This empowers enterprises or venues to deploy LTE-based networks without having to acquire spectrum. Alternatively, Qualcomm Research designs technologies for enterprises that leverage LTE-TDD over CBRS band, providing maximum flexibility in terms of time to market.
Our private LTE networking solution fills the gap between what existing technologies can do and what enterprises need, addressing challenges in QoS, bandwidth, coverage, mobility, reliability and security in support of self-contained networks.
Assuring Quality of Service (QoS)
Qualcomm Research leverages QoS as one of the many LTE network features which enable businesses to customize and optimize their LTE network. LTE’s throughput and latency performance enables a range of applications in industrial IoT networks such as real-time video delivery and remote control of machinery. We design technologies that enable network operators to prioritize QoS amongst their mix of critical machines, devices, video cameras, and sensors as per the needs of their network. Ultimately, this assures that key devices can achieve the necessary QoS, achieving the required latency or throughput. Additionally, different traffic types can be managed, ensuring that low priority traffic does not impact data critical to the plant operation. This creates endless possibilities for how operators could provision their QoS.
Enabling Ubiquitous Coverage
Private LTE networks offer many coverage advantages over other services such as Wi-Fi and 802.15.4-based technologies such as WirelessHART® or 802.15.4. For example, enterprises can cover their facilities with fewer LTE small cells than Wi-Fi access points and can seamlessly support a large number of devices while providing a better link budget than Wi-Fi.
Private LTE networks interoperate with public LTE/MNO networks handovers and are supported as the enterprise’s device leave the premises. For example, a shipping port may want to track their chassis (the means for transporting shipping containers) constantly while they’re near the port. In this case, the port would leverage their private LTE network for the tracking. When the chassis travels beyond the port’s private LTE coverage area, the port’s management can still track the chassis, at a lower resolution, by relying on the wide-area MNO network.
Providing Unrivaled Versatility
Designed for the low throughput transmission of small data packets, 802.15.4 excels in sending data such as measurements but has limited bandwidth for throughput intensive applications such as video. More versatile than 802.15.4, private LTE network operators can use the same network for sending small packets with low latency, achieving high bandwidth with extended coverage.
In addition to being deployed on shared spectrum, 4G LTE could also be deployed on MNO spectrum and be locally dedicated to the enterprise. For example, if an MNO has excess spectrum, they may sublet it to the enterprise or sell private LTE as a service.
Enhancing Reliability and Delivering Ease of Deployment with Self-Organizing Networks (SON)
Reliable connectivity is key for industrial networks. While Wi-Fi is often employed in these environments, some Wi-Fi systems may lack robust mobility support as devices or machines move from one access point to another, resulting in possible connection drops. Or the connection may drop due to channel collisions or propagation. Loss of a connectivity for just a fraction of a second may shut down the entire production line.
Conversely, Qualcomm’s private LTE network model inherently supports seamless handovers when machines or devices are mobile. Private LTE also benefits from years of UltraSON research. Thanks to UltraSON and now private LTE, the network deployment process is simplified to mere dimensioning rather than the extensive network planning and optimization used in macro LTE networks, enabling ease of deployment.
Our UltraSON also reduces the network’s deployment and operating costs. Through UltraSON, LTE private network operators spend little time optimizing their network as the UltraSON helps adapt the network parameter settings.
Additionally, unlike macro network, private LTE can be set with dedicated parameters to achieve specific goals. For example, by tweaking certain algorithmic parameters, a fast fallback can be achieved with recovery time reduced to a fraction of the recovery in a macro network.
Engineering Scalable and Easy Credential Management
Authentication is key to the security of a network as it prohibits unauthorized devices from entering the network. Simplifying the deployment of devices within the LTE network, non-SIM authentication technology uses credentials for easy and scalable onboarding of devices. Unlike today’s LTE devices which are equipped with SIM cards for authentication, we introduced a non-SIM certificate-based authentication scheme so enterprises no longer have to deal with the inconvenience of managing their SIM cards. Thus, security credentials for IoT devices can be embedded without the need for a dedicated SIM card. The credential can be activated, changed, or revoked in the credential management server by a technician if the device needs to be activated, is changed, or suspended. With the certificate- based credential, the IoT device can authenticate itself with the same level of security as SIM-based authentication.
Ease of Management and Edge Processing
With private LTE, the enterprise does not have to invest heavily to acquire all the network component necessary to operate a public LTE network. All the network functions, including Evolved Packet Core, operation and maintenance, etc., can be virtualized in the cloud and offered as a service. The virtualized network functions can optionally be complemented by a local breakout gateway to minimize latency or for when the enterprise requires tight control on its data.
On the application side, the external cloud service can also perform other tasks such as analytics and processing. Again, depending on the enterprise needs or preference, such analytics can be done on the edge as well. For example, for closed loop processes, when every millisecond counts, the data between sensor and actuator would be routed locally. On the other hand, for a small operation where cost savings are paramount, routing all the data to the cloud would support the enterprise with a lightweight deployment on its premises. By putting analytics on the edge, network operators can reduce the data demand, bandwidth requirements, and latency.
During Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017, Qualcomm Research conducted a private LTE network demonstration set inside our manufacturing plant, demonstrating how LTE could enhance the plant’s efficiency. Several use cases were demonstrated including remote operation of robots and inventory management.
Additionally, our network was provisioned to enable fast fallback and QoS differentiation. Security and ease of deployment were enabled by utilizing pre-provisioned certificate-based authentication, which simplified the deployment of IoT devices without the management overhead associated with SIMs.
During the demo, our network assured QoS, prioritizing critical packets such as commands to the robot. Leveraging a high bandwidth LTE link, the robot streamed its video feed to a cloud-based service which collected the data and provided analytics. As the robot moved through the plant, it seamlessly performed handovers across different LTE small cells. With the fast fallback feature, when the connection was abruptly interrupted, the connection was rapidly transferred to another nearby small cell, minimizing interruptions.
Qualcomm Research continues to actively participate in standardization efforts to enable LTE-based technologies to be used for private IoT networks in the 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands. As a founding member of both the CBRS Alliance and the MulteFire Alliance (MFA), we have contributed to the standardization of MulteFire Release 1.0, as well as accelerating CBRS deployments. Going forward, we will continue to add features designed for private IoT to the next release of the MulteFire standard. MFA has a plan associated with private IoT which includes network architecture for IoT and physical layer enhancements for private IoT, which will be included in Release 1.1.
The CBRS band has a unique 3-tier structure that accommodates incumbents and new entrants with different priorities. Qualcomm Research is a key technical contributor to CBRS Alliance and WInnForum coexistence and network architecture work. CBRS Alliance is an industry forum whose objective is to enable LTE-based CBRS deployments in the US 3.5GHz band. The WInnForum is defining protocol and procedures to ensure compliance of CBRS deployments to FCC’s rules in a technology agnostic manner for networks deploying in that band. They also developed certification procedures for related products. Qualcomm Research is a key contributor to both organizations.
If you find the work we’re doing in Industrial IoT to be exciting, and you have a technical background in private LTE networks, MulteFire networks, or SON technologies, we’d love to hear from you. Please visit us at https://www.qualcomm.com/company/careers to submit your resume.