We have often commented on the revival of private cellular networks, a breed which was widely expected to disappear as LTE became increasingly capable of supporting specialized requirements such as vehicle or emergency services networks. While fully proprietary technology may have only very niche roles these days, there is a strong growth in the number of enterprises which want to use LTE or 5G to transform their operations, but want to plan and control those systems rather than trusting to the public network.
According to a new report from Global Market Insights, the private LTE networks market will be worth about $27bn by 2024. The more critical wireless connectivity becomes to businesses, the more they will need it to be optimized and secured for their particular requirements – and until the full promise of network slicing is delivered, in many years’ time, private networks are often the best option.
These may be run in proprietary spectrum, owned by the enterprise; in licensed spectrum provided by the MNO; or in shared spectrum. The last option gives non-MNOs the opportunity to build and run enterprise ‘sub-nets’ – localized, self-contained networks, often built around small cell clusters and an on -premise or cloud-based core. But while integrators, neutral hosts and cablecos are all showing interest in the sub-net approach – to access the high value business of supporting an enterprise’s critical connectivity needs – some MNOs are also leaping into the market.
An example is China Unicom and its new deal with Nokia and BMW. The carmaker is building a new factory in Shenyang, as part of its BMW Brilliance Automotive joint venture with local firm, Brilliance China Automotive Holdings. Nokia will deploy a private cellular network across the campus to support layers of applications, from employee voice and messaging, to robotics and, in future, communications between mixed teams of robots and humans.
While some systems of this kind will use shared spectrum (which can be well protected from interference within the confines of a factory), this example has the airwaves and connectivity provided by an MNO, China Unicom. Nokia has used the same approach in its own 5G equipment factory in Chennai, India, where the connectivity comes from BSNL.
In both cases, Nokia is rolling out the 4G RAN, including machine-to-machine capabilities based on NB-IoT as well as mobile broadband; and supporting low latency applications like object tracking via its vMEC (virtualized multi-access edge compute) platform. This combination of connectivity types with localized edge cloud capabilities will be deployed in such a way as to allow easy upgrade to 5G in future, said the vendor.
Once integration with the enterprise network is complete, the private LTE network will support secure voice and data communication between staff, as well as M2M use cases including wireless video monitoring, production line maintenance inspection, indoor navigation and industrial robots.
Gao Bo, head of the China Unicom customer team at Nokia Shanghai Bell said: “Smart manufacturing is a key priority for the transformation of the manufacturing industry in China … Being a software-only solution, the Nokia vMEC can be integrated easily into existing enterprise IT infrastructure to enhance business-critical processes and deliver new operational efficiency.”
In India, Nokia will deploy a micro core network and MEC platform connected to BSNL’s LTE network to support low latency services such as fault monitoring; increased automation; and remote monitoring and control, all adding up to the ability to make products more quickly.
“Nokia is already one of our key partners in developing the 5G ecosystem, and now we are exploring use cases such as Industry 4.0 that can benefit tremendously with 5G. This network deployment for Industry 4.0 at Nokia’s Chennai factory, that can be scaled to 5G, demonstrates our preparedness to take advantage of new opportunities that will emerge with 5G and IoT in India,” said Anupam Srivastava, chairman and managing director at BSNL, in a statement.
Telia and Nokia work on URLLC use cases:
Division X, the emerging businesses arm of Finnish operator Telia, has been running a series of industrial trials with Nokia, to see how 5G ultra-reliable low latency communications (URLLC) could support services such as smart electricity and harbour automation.
The activities are part of the Wireless for Verticals (WIVE) research project, which also involves the Business Finland, academic institutions and enterprises.
Nokia worked with automation company ABB in the first test, which showed how URLLC could be deployed to support near-instantaneous fault reporting in medium voltage electricity networks. Low latency communications keep the network running while ensuring that personnel are safe and equipment undamaged.
Petri Hovila, program manager at ABB, said: “Managing power distribution networks with an increasing amount of distributed energy resources and an increasing need of flexibility requires advanced technology for protection, control and monitoring. The 5G URLLC technology provides an affordable communication platform for deployment of these advanced technologies. The results of the WIVE project are encouraging for future utility-scale implementation of 5G.”
A second trial, involving Nokia and cargo handling company Kalmar, used URLLC to automate container yard operations.
Automation research director Pekka Yli-Paunu from Kalmar said: “Network slicing in 5G networks brings a higher level of predictability and control for our safety-related applications. 5G connections should work at the same level of reliability, latency, and bandwidth as cables, and its management should be simple enough.”
Mikko Uusitalo, head of wireless advanced technologies research at Nokia, said: “Industry collaboration is essential in fostering innovation around 5G and for enabling different industries to take full advantage of the promises of 5G, especially the low latency combined with high reliability. The WIVE project has provided us with greater insight into the requirements and opportunities for experimentation to test our solutions.”
Nokia and Telefónica pilot MEC in manufacturing:
Nokia’s edge compute-enabled trials of industrial systems are piling up, and the latest is in partnership with Telefónica in Spain.
The companies have worked with the University of Valladolid and the city of Segovia on a pilot system, which uses augmented reality to predict and pre-empt faults in the assembly line.
Images of the production line were captured on camera and sent to a MEC server in near-real time, where video analytics compared them to the ideal state of the line. This data was then forwarded to an augmented reality app.
The trial used a 5G radio node and self-contained core, as well as the edge node. The technologies are prototypes of those which Telefónica expects to implement in live networks over the coming six months.
The demonstration formed part of the telco’s 5G Technological Cities project, which was launched at the start of this year. A second testbed has been set up in Talavera de la Reina. Both cities will see their networks upgraded over the coming months ahead of a commercial 5G launch. In April, Telefónica demonstrated a 5G test application in this second location, streaming video content to an autonomous vehicle.