Anyone who has used a public Wi-Fi hotspot for more than the occasional web browsing and emailing knows how unpredictable it can be. Wi-Fi’s lack of predictability has held back the deployment of wireless in many enterprise applications where predictable performance is essential. Fortunately — given the importance of wireless for many Industry 4.0 use cases — there are reliable alternatives to Wi-Fi emerging.
The OnGo service that launched in the US this past January makes available new unlicensed (or lightly licensed) spectrum in the 3.5GHz range (also called CBRS) that will make affordable LTE and 5G available to everyone — no need to license it from the government or mobile operators. This is expected to unleash Industry 4.0 for many enterprises.
Not all wireless technologies are created equal. When not over-subscribed with smartphone users in dense urban settings or out of range in the countryside, LTE is engineered to be highly reliable and provide high bandwidth performance very close to that provided by cabled Ethernet. 5G, when it arrives, will actually meet Ethernet performance levels.
The problem, is that LTE was traditionally expensive. First, the equipment was designed for nationwide networks able to support millions of users and secondly, mobile operators have to pay huge licenses for nationwide radio spectrum to the governments. And as users, we pay them in turn for access to it. In the past, these two factors made it unusual for enterprises to use LTE wireless technology except in rare cases. Cabled Ethernet has been the connectivity of choice for industrials, and where wireless was essential, Wi-Fi and other wireless technologies (PAMR, TETRA, X25, SigFox, LoRA, BLE, Mesh, etc.) have filled the gap where they could.
Recognizing that industry needed an affordable wireless alternative led to an effort to find new radio spectrum starting in 2010. Working with the US National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), the 3.5 GHz band was identified as a possible candidate. It was being used by the US Navy for radar installations in coastal areas and fixed satellite earth stations. There were also some point-to-point wireless broadband users in rural areas. But in most of the country, it was going unused.
A novel scheme was developed that allowed for the sharing of this spectrum and thus the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) was born. A broad alliance of companies was formed in 2016, called the CBRS Alliance, to develop standards for CBRS and test and trial devices designed to use it. The Alliance branded CBRS as “OnGo,” which is now the public face of CBRS, and OnGo was formally launched to the public in January 2020.
OnGo will be used by many devices in the way that Wi-Fi or Bluetooth are used today. But where it is most exciting is that it will also be used by LTE radios to provide the first unlicensed (or lightly licensed) LTE wireless services. The biggest use case for OnGo will be industrial IoT.
Mobile technology vendors have developed small cell LTE radios that can be deployed in much the same way that enterprises now deploy Wi-Fi hot spots. Although more expensive because of the more sophisticated technology required to ensure predictable performance, LTE hot spots can cover roughly the same area as 10 Wi-Fi hot spots. Thus, the total cost of ownership of LTE systems is comparable.
The business case for using LTE private networks to provide connectivity, even for fixed devices such as IoT sensors and robotics, is very easy to make. Avoiding expensive cabling costs alone can justify it for many deployments. When you add in support for mobile devices such as autonomous vehicles, drones and connected PPE, it becomes extremely compelling.
The potential use cases include everything from wireless support for first responders using video for improved situational awareness to massive machine communications in advanced manufacturing, mining, smart grids, logistics and remote healthcare. When paired with multi-edge computing (MEC), it will enable highly precise, ultra-low latency automation. And its high bandwidth coverage will enable video-enabled remote operations and data-intensive digital twin technologies.
As we move to 5G, CBRS will show even greater potential. 5G’s support for massive IoT communications and ultra-low latencies (~1ms) will enable a further set of applications that are inconceivable with today’s wireless technologies — and all very affordable. The result will be an explosion in Industry 4.0 applications across virtually every industrial sector.
The timetable for all of this is the near term. The OnGo device ecosystem will take only a year or two to grow. 3.5GHz-based LTE chipsets are already available and device manufacturers are already releasing industrial devices over the next couple of years. Hot on the heels of LTE, the standards for 5G critical machine communication support are expected by 2022 with chipsets and devices expected to widely available by late 2023 and 2024.
The re-purposing of the 3.5GHz spectrum in the US, with its novel spectrum sharing scheme, is seen as a model for developing industry-accessible wireless. Outside the US, other governments are releasing similar spectrum bands, and first responder and industrial use cases are also their primary focus.
Meanwhile, OnGo is gaining momentum and support in the US. It’s ability to offer what is essentially free spectrum puts private LTE and 5G networks within the reach of many enterprises, helping them to pursue Industry 4.0 and accelerate their digital transformation efforts.
Stephane Daeuble is responsible for enterprise solutions marketing in Nokia’s enterprise division. At Nokia, he has previously headed global product marketing for 3G/HSPA, LTE, and small cells. He has held product, sales, and marketing roles with various industrial automation, energy, IT, networking, and telecoms companies.
Shiv has over 8 years experience working on Internet of Things and an avid user of Drones