Qualcomm has been connecting people for the last 30 years, and over the next 30 years, we will be connecting them to the world of things around them. A key part of this vision is 5G, which will allow us to take the largest technology platform in human history — mobile — and extend it to virtually every industry, every object and every connection through intelligent connected platforms. But we do not have to wait for 5G to start the expansion into industrial IoT using private networks. We can start with private LTE networks now. In fact, trials are already planned for this year.
The concept of private LTE networks is not new, but with the recent confluence of new spectrum sharing innovations and the genesis of “Industry 4.0” — the digital transformation of industrial processes and the fourth industrial revolution — the potential for private LTE networks is substantial. A recent study from Harbor Research indicated that the private LTE network market could reach $17B (USD) by 2022. Already today, we see strong interest from a range of industry segments, from manufacturing automation and shipping ports to oil & gas and power generation plants (see Figure 1).
Setting private LTE networks apart from public networks
The unique concept of private LTE networks is that they empower enterprise customers to run their own local network with dedicated equipment and settings. This approach provides three key benefits:
- Locally controlled: By using dedicated equipment, the private LTE network and its performance is independent from other users, and free from issues such as sudden traffic surges that can happen in a shared network. This benefit is essential for industrial and enterprise applications where productivity must be maintained at high and predictable levels. Having a local and dedicated network also enables full control of the data. For example, a company can ensure that sensitive data does not leave the premises.
- Optimized: By serving the needs of a single company, the private LTE network can be tailored for that company’s specific IoT applications. Examples of such optimization are quality-of-service (QoS) and mobility settings. With customized QoS, consistent service can be provided for the critical applications irrespective of the network load. With customized mobility settings, the behavior can be optimized for local applications; for example, to perform a faster reconnection in the unlikely event of a link failure.
- Readily deployed: With shared and unlicensed spectrum available for anyone to use for private LTE networks, deployment of private LTE networks is easy, which enables new entities to enjoy LTE. This will expand the overall LTE ecosystem. In addition, the ability to leverage the LTE roadmap allows access to features such as self-organizing networks and to network architectures with both self-contained or virtual/hosted core networks.
The benefits of using private LTE networks
Now that we know what a private LTE network is, let's look at the benefits of using LTE-based technologies. As the figure below illustrates, the key benefits compared to other wireless local networks are: higher capacity supporting many devices at the same time as high bandwidth applications, longer range, seamless mobility, industry-grade reliability, consistent latency with quality of service, security, and last but not least, its interoperability between multiple suppliers and a roadmap to 5G. The roadmap to 5G ensures a future-proof solution with new 5G capabilities such as the new 5G new radio (NR) and mission-critical services with ultra-reliable and ultra-low latency communications.
So, what's new you may ask? Mobile network operators can offer private LTE networks by dedicating a portion of their license spectrum, which is, and will continue to be, an important part of the private LTE market. What is new is the progress around spectrum sharing, in other words unlicensed and shared spectrum. In a recent blog post, we outlined the progress — from the first concept of LTE in unlicensed more than five years ago, to the MulteFire Alliance releasing its MulteFire 1.0 specification earlier this year, to 3GPP recently starting a study on 5G in unlicensed spectrum.
These efforts have mainly been focused on unlicensed spectrum, but lately there is also excitement around shared spectrum. In the U.S., the FCC has defined the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), which is a 150 MHz shared spectrum band around 3.5 GHz. To support deployment of LTE-based technologies in this band, we co-founded the CBRS Alliance. With MulteFire and CBRS, we now have two new solutions that can be used for private LTE networks — MulteFire in the globally available 5 GHz band and LTE-TDD in the U.S.-based CBRS band. A key novelty with these solutions is that they do not require licensed spectrum, which significantly reduces the bar for new deployments and opens private LTE network deployments to a wider ecosystem.
The latest news about trials and demonstrations
Progress has been happening on many fronts. At Mobile World Congress (MWC) 2017, we demonstrated a private LTE-based network for Industrial IoT based in an industry collaboration between Qualcomm Technologies, Nokia and GE Digital. This collaboration will continue with further research and live field trials throughout 2017.
Earlier this year we also showed the first demo of a private LTE network in CBRS providing a 360° race car experience. This demo was based on a collaboration with Nokia and Alphabet’s Access Group. This extreme use case showcases LTE’s high performance, such as seamless mobility and high bandwidth, as well as the ability to tailor a private LTE network for specific applications.
As you can see, the next industrial revolution is already here in the shape of private LTE networks and, with the latest progress in 3GPP, we expect these to evolve into private 5G networks in the future.