Exploring Private LTE Networks at CCW 2018

Part 8 in a series of reflections in the lead-up to Critical Communications World 2018

Talk of private LTE networks is on the rise around the world. The chatter comes as industrial verticals rethink wireless data communications technologies as compelling LTE-based features arrive on the market. For industrial players, the opportunity to embrace LTE technology can lead to improvements in both operational efficiency and worker safety. In contrast to Wi-Fi, LTE is based on a tightly scheduled network-supervised air interface that enables better spectrum efficiency and more control over the quality of service offered to application device traffic. While LTE technology is predominately delivered via the mobile network operator on spectrum bands serving a wide range of user equipment attached to a cell sector, private LTE fills a void where no operator is present -- as is the case of mines and remote oil platforms -- or across enterprises prepared to leverage license-exempt spectrum. At Critical Communications World 2018, visitors will have opportunities to hear more about private LTE in service of enterprise-critical communications. 

The scarcity of spectrum challenges enterprises considering private LTE network deployments. This shortage means most private LTE networks are in locations where licensed spectrum is readily available, as is the case in remote areas. With no significant population base nearby, these areas are typically not served by mobile operators. Even if some mobile network operator service is available, the thin population means a local mobile operator taps a small slice of the available spectrum. This low utilization gives operators an opportunity to offer dedicated spectrum to enterprises operating private networks supporting mining, oil drilling and forestry operations.

One forward-thinking approach towards private LTE networks will be highlighted at Critical Communications World by Air France and AGURRE.  Representatives from AGURRE will describe the French efforts aimed at securing private LTE spectrum to service the needs of the transportation and energy sector.  As part of this presentation, Air France will describe private LTE network testing conducted at Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport with a temporary allocation of 20 MHz in the 2.6 GHz band.  The French regulator ARCEP granted this spectrum to support a feasibility test of the private LTE network concept. 

Other useful sessions at Critical Communications World include the Day 1 Masterclass "Pushing The Boundaries of Innovation Across Transport, Utilities and Industry" offered by Robin Davis of Actica and Nick Smye from Mason Advisory. Likewise, the Day 2 session "A European Way For Critical Infrastructure Communication on the Example of Smart Grid" presented by Dr. Panagiotis Paschalidis of P3 Communications will explore the European perspective of critical communication networks serving the energy sector.

Enterprises interested in the advantages of private LTE in areas lacking adequate licensed spectrum have several options. All major network equipment suppliers exhibiting at Critical Communications World offer solutions for private LTE networks. As a case in point, Nokia has supported Rio Tinto's extensive mining operations with a private LTE network in Australia while Ericsson and Athonet recently delivered a private LTE network for the LaRonde Mine in Canada. Huawei's eLTE portfolio offers a variety of LTE-based devices operating in country-specific bands open for industrial applications. In addition to push-to-talk functionality, Huawei's eLTE offer now includes support for NB-IoT over licensed-exempt spectrum. At Critical Communications World, Huawei will be showing off the latest in its eLTE portfolio offerings.

An additional approach for private LTE is now emerging thanks to the efforts of the MulteFire Alliance. With MulteFire, enterprises gain the advantages of LTE in common licensed-exempt bands around the globe. Based on LTE Licensed-Assisted Access (LAA) standards produced in 3GPP, MulteFire eliminates the LAA requirement of a mobile network operator supplied uplink carrier. The approach will work well in industrial environments where the enterprise controls spectrum contention. Beyond today's LTE technology, 3GPP standards committees are studying MulteFire-like capabilities as a basis for coming 5G functionality. MulteFire Alliance members Ericsson, Huawei, Kathrein and Nokia are exhibitors at Critical Communications World.

While LTE coverage will continue to be supplied by mobile network operators, enterprise interest in private LTE network is growing. Critical Communications World 2018 provides a valuable forum for knowledge exchange between pioneering enterprise planners and equipment suppliers.

Revised to add examples of Athonet, Ericsson and Nokia private LTE deployments.