The biggest problem I have seen with 5G and Private LTE, PLTE, is that when it’s presented, it’s too broad. So many use cases that try to solve problems for large groups all in one fell swoop.
That doesn’t make sense in the real world. You have to build a use case that solves a specific problem. Then it could lead to solving more problems.
The carriers changed the idea of spectrum usage, from voice to an instant messaging device and now to your last-mile solution.
The smartphone helped us look at the devices differently, from phones to texting and now replacing laptops.
Suddenly, it’s all about data! From 3G EVDO to 4G LTE to 5G.
Now, with the release of the CBRS spectrum, we can create smaller and specific use cases where in the past, we only had WiMax for outdoor and Wi-Fi for the rest.
No matter what spectrum is out there, we have been looking at how the increased bandwidth and low latency will solve so many problems. We also are looking at all the use cases now that we can experiment on our own.
I believe that we have to go beyond the larger use cases, stop trying to solve everyone’s large problems, and focus on what problems need to be solved right now!
I bring up 5G because the CBRS PLTE offers a clear roadmap to 5G. It’s a logical progression.
Network Solution Business Cases
The carriers know what they want so let them alone. It seems silly to think we can dictate what they should do. I’ll tell you what they will do, they will do what makes the most business sense and gamble on solutions that have the biggest payback because that’s what the investors are asking them to do. Make money from the masses.
What we need to do is look at the use cases outside of the wide area. We need to start narrowing down the use cases to specific problems. We need to look at smaller network solutions. It’s time to look at the micro-universe of each business sector.
Think of this, there are specific use cases that CBRS has opened up that are being looked at.
We can’t create a need unless it serves a purpose. Will it save money, add security, or solve a problem? I mean Wi-Fi is so cheap that it’s hard to argue against using it for almost everything.
There is a lot that rides on Wi-Fi like any indoor IOT function will ride on 2.4GHz or 5.8GHz, it makes sense. More devices will increase loading and uck up bandwidth.
When there are too many devices in one given area, you begin to have problems.
When you are sharing the spectrum for IOT functions, like lighting control or IOT feedback, then less and less spectrum is available.
Tie all that in with the security issue you could have when combining so any different IOT OEMs into one network, there can be breaches.
Today, with the CBRS spectrum and low-cost equipment, we can build our own PLTE networks with a path to 5G.
Now we have to look at the business cases we wrote off in the past.
I have been looking at these sectors:
- Mid to large enterprise
- Rural solutions
- Mini carriers
- City Governments
- Smart City
- Manufacturing and warehousing
- Farming, heavy equipment, and mining
This is what several network owners want to tie that in with the core options that smaller OEMs are asking available to their customers and you have efficient and low time to market.
I was talking with Commscopes’s Ruckus group the other day and they have an amazing core solution for their customers. This is an ideal solution for someone who wants to start out with just the RAN. It allows smaller operators to enter the market without less CapEx and a higher OpEx.
While we all want to start out cheap, look at any WISP using Wi-Fi over a larger area, it makes sense to have a carrier-grade network where you can roam onto a larger carrier.
Of course, if you work with Nokia they have a mini core that they will put together for you so that you can put something that you own into your network.
You have to decide what your use case is and how you intend to grow.
I won’t talk about Cars
So many people are talking about automobiles. They need to be in touch, talk to each other, and be monitored in real-time.
Guess what, they can do most of that already. They really don’t need the network, but they do rely on connectivity for real-time updates and soon, they will talk to each other to send alerts. The thought is, if it makes sense and is cost-effective, is that if an accident happens ahead of you they can rely on the message and help you slow down before you get there. It’s the plan to eliminate 50 car pile-ups on highways when the visibility is less than 50 feet.
If the cars could talk, then when one gets banged up it could send a distress signal to everything within 50 feet to alert the surrounding vehicles and they could repeat it so that 10 cars back the cars would instinctively slow down or stop or at least warn the driver.
When I look at the auto market, I only see the apps and devices as the short term, and possibly the long-term solution. Why would they care what network or spectrum is out there? Just so long as they can connect.
As for me, I am worried about the network and those solutions.
The auto companies will ride on whatever network makes sense for them financially, so let them alone.
When I think of cars, it’s all about apps and devices, not about a network solution. Let the auto manufacturers figure that out. They don’t want our help.
Indoor and Campus Enterprise Coverage
This is where the CBRS has really opened up new markets. The CBRS band is allowing companies to create a private network on LTE, a Private LTE network in the buildings, floors, and around their campuses.
If you’re wondering about this, here’s some feedback I got from people I talked to.
The idea is that you can have complete security inside your office space. That you can control all devices in your workspace. Not just the laptops and iPads, but the smartphones too.
This also allows the enterprise to have complete control of the coverage.
The enterprise sees this as a network security solution that solves not only security but also the coverage and offloading concerns. If the enterprise can install their own radios based on the potential loading that is expected in conference rooms and gathering areas, then they could provide a better model than an outside carrier doing it their way.
This is a way they can monitor and control data without worrying about someone who has breached security.
As for the carriers, like Verizon, they can sell the solution to the enterprise without installing it themselves, providing income and reducing installation costs. In the past, they might have installed a DAS system with high CapEx and ongoing OpEx.
Let the enterprise provide their own solution and put it on their network solution. Just as long as they roam onto the network of a carrier when they leave the enterprise’s office or campus.
It’s a win-win for those two parties.
However, it’s an investment. One that the mid to large size enterprise can afford. They want the control and they want the coverage.
If they have a conference room where they need additional W-Fi hotspots and PLTE hotspots, they can design it the way they want, to be dictated by the carriers as to what can or can’t be installed.
Then, the enterprise can work a deal with its carrier(s) of choice to roam outside.
This is better than Wi-Fi because of security and PLTE efficiencies. They could control their entire network inside their building or campus.
It makes sense from the enterprise point of view. They already have money invested, so adding a PLTE CBRS system opens up new doors for them. Since it’s indoors, they can offer a lot of bandwidth without sharing. The SAS model makes sense here.
That is a use case being considered today.
Enterprises can build their own, get a carrier’s solution, a 3rd party solution, or ask the local broadband provider. They have options.
Utilities for specific areas
Remember Wi-MAX in the 3.5GHz space, you, space formerly known as WiMAX is now CBRS. Well, this hurt a lot of utilities that relied on a secure WiMAX system in the past. It was a “local” wide-area wireless network.
Now, all those utility networks are screwed. They no longer have a higher power wireless network with a spectrum that could be used outside. While it sucks for them, now they have to deploy a new CBRS PLTE network or go with a carrier.
Why don’t they just go with a carrier? I am glad you asked! It’s because they don’t want the contracts, commitment, and they want to use it the way they want to use it, not the way the carrier tells them to use it.
Oh, they also want to spend the CapEx upfront and then keep the OpEx as low as possible.
Utilities want to connect not only devices for monitoring, but they would also like to have the option to connect remote buildings and offices as needed.
Today, utilities are looking at drone services to inspect lines. Power companies see a way to do power line inspections quickly, safely, and ad hoc using drones. In the past, they would have to call in drivers or a plane to look at lines after a storm or when there was an issue.
The drones of today can be connected using CBRS and could fly from one end of the line to the remote end using radios placed at the base of the high tension line towers. They could be on poles, and all they need to do it face up to control the drones.
The power companies can make the investment upfront and have a new tool at their disposal to inspect high tension lines immediately. They don’t have to power anything down to send a drone out. They don’t have to pay extra.
Soon, it could be automated. That would mean that someone would initiate the sequence and off they would go, collecting data, so that it can be reviewed later.
If something is wrong, send it back out to take more pictures and have the crew gather what it needs prior to the visit. This would minimize the trip to one per problem or per line to save repair time and minimize downtime.
The use cases for utilities goes on and on.
Many utilities rely on SCADA systems to monitor their meters and remote offices. There are solutions that can take the traditional SCADA and convert it to a network interface that can be read, monitored and alarmed over PLTE networks. One of these companies is Encore.
Using PLTE it improves security and lowers latency. It allows the utility to have complete control over the network and the OpEx. They could manage the network without worrying if the carrier has made changes that affect the billing or latency.
Utilities need control, they need systems that are reliable and predictable. Not controlled by having so many other users on the network.
PLTE over CBRS offers that solution.
In rural areas, they have a huge problem getting the signal from the backhaul to the end-user. It is not easy when all the users are miles from each other. Now, you have to come up with a solution that will work to deliver broadband.
I know that most people rely on a physical connection that usually is copper, not fiber. The connections are so remote that often they have to choose between a spotty wireless connection or a slow copper connection.
These are areas where the larger carriers won’t invest and the rural carriers rely on government grants to serve just a few people.
What if we could run fiber to a tower or a hill or another central location and extend the coverage using CBRS?
What if we could get a bigger payback for the fiber we run down the main rural roads by putting a high power outdoor radio on poles that could connect more than one user at a time?
This might sound normal in a city, but the rural solutions are there. It’s a viable solution that could lower deployment costs.
Now that newer smartphones will have the CBRS spectrum in them, and that other devices could be set up inside a window, it makes the end-user solution something that is cheaper and easier to install.
The downside is that you would still need to test each location, not sure how that would work.
I also see this rural coverage as an extension for the larger carriers. They could immediately fill in rural holes by creating a simple mini MNO roaming agreement with the solution providers.
Again, it’s a way to roll out broadband to a wide area using the infrastructure that they already have.
It’s not a replacement for fiber, we all get that. However, it is a viable solution to expend fiber.
The Mini Carrier
I have had people tell me how crazy this would be. In fact, they think the big 4 carriers will build everywhere.
And yet, if you are in the business, you know that there are a ton of small carriers in rural areas. There are private DAS system owners as well as Crown Castle.
Most people don’t think it makes sense to deploy just 3 or 4 sites to provide coverage to a specific area.
Today, that is possible!
Oh, I know what you’re thinking, there is no market or customer for something so small.
- Square and PayPal made it possible for a small business to take credit cards.
- Venmo and Paypal made it possible for small payments and cash transfers to happen in real-time without running a bank or relying on cash.
- Amazon made it possible for writers in tight niches, like me, to offer ebooks and real books to their markets.
- Podcasting made it possible for an individual to provide audio to niche markets.
- Blogging made it possible for one person to reach their audience with a free website.
- Sales platforms, like Gumroad, Draft2Digital, Etsy, and more helped individuals provide products to their niche markets.
- WISPs provided wireless internet to customers who could not gain access to anything else, a specific niche market.
Today, with the help of the smaller OEMs, like Commscope’s Ruckus line, https://www.ruckuswireless.com/content/citizens-broadband-radio-service-cbrs, and https://support.ruckuswireless.com/documents/2738-ruckus-cbrs-lte-private-core-network-service-data-sheet, there are solutions. They help with the core and the RAN.
It’s not like you have to commit to a nationwide buildout as AT&T did with Firstnet. All you have to do is build where you want to build. You have complete control.
It is not a cheap network like Wi-Fi, you have to look at the network, not just the radio. So it’s not for everyone. It will take planning and commitment.
However, it can solve a problem and it provides a solution we didn’t have before the CBRS.
We have the opportunity to create small coverage pockets that could potentially roam onto larger networks. Now that mainstream devices, like the new iPhone and Samsung Galaxy, have the CBRS spectrum in it, we will be able to create coverage areas in places where there was nothing before.
The carriers should be grateful because they don’t have to build everywhere. They can take the areas of the cities where they don’t see a payback and let the local mini MNO build the network. It saves on OpEx and CapEx.
Remember when we had to build DAS systems, then we realized we could use small cells. Indoor coverage solutions are evolving.
Oh, did I mention that the carriers do not want to pay for indoor coverage systems like they did years past?
Today, with the CBRS they could hand it off to a small MNO. the small MNO could sell services and bandwidth inside the building and then roam onto a larger carrier for when they leave the building.
A small business can supplement income by offering broadband to the people inside their building. They can grow it by offering mobile coverage for some more money.
This business case opens up new doors for the local indoor coverage provider.
Look how Comcast had to partner with Verizon, yet they rely heavily on Wi-fi for their indoor offloading in cities.
City Governments (big, medium, or small)
Here’s the thing, it is hard to separate the smart city from the government. I see them as two completely different solutions. I’ll explain why.
Governments are not a black and white solution. They generally have a different need for each department. While we would like to provide them with a solution, that is not realistic. It’s crazy to think that if you’ve ever worked with any larger government.
Smaller governments are a different case. They often understand that they need to get the biggest bang for their buck.
However, let’s breakdown the government requirements and how each department might benefit.
This could be fire, ambulance, rescue, police, or any other branch they may have. They need a secure voice network with no delays. I don’t see CBRS as a solution here for emergencies. They still have PTT systems for a reason. They are reliable and quick. They need super-low latency and can’t rely on a data network to do this, at least not today.
They could use the CBRS as a data network. Much like the Firstnet dream. If Firstnet, (AT&T), the network works the way they promised then it will provide a highly reliable and low latency LTE network for all first responders. That is as long as AT&T built the network that they promised Firstnet.
Will it fill all the gaps? Probably not. That is where the CBRS spectrum could prove useful. In many cities the police park in specific areas because the Wi-Fi works there. They rely on Wi-Fi to get data in many cases. Even today. Why do you think so many donut shops for Wi-Fi?
So if another department puts up a PLTE system, then they should let the emergency response teams know where they will have coverage so they can use the broadband to complete reports, research criminals, and connect their broadband.
Again, small governments would use this more than the larger cities.
This could be trash collection, tree removal, city heat, inspectors, meter systems, traffic counters, people counters, parking apps, tourism, cameras, or any service that the city may offer.
When we think of these services we often look at the end result. Like looking at our smartphones we see the open meters or parking spaces, maybe what day and time garbage collection would happen, or even traffic conditions.
However, how does the city collect that data?
- Do they run fiber everywhere? Maybe.
- Do they rely on a carrier? Maybe.
- Do they build their own network? Maybe.
- Could it be a combination of all three? Most likely.
The reality is that the carriers could drain the city budgets quickly. They may not like paying that bill every month. They have tons of bills to pay so that’s one bill that could be hard to control. It may not be a fixed cost.
Fiber is expensive to run after the initial run. It’s not only expensive but could take a long time to roll out and may cause the streets to be ripped up.
So if they can run fiber and use CBRS to reach the farthest sites, then life is improving, isn’t it? They can use this as another tool in their arsenal.
They have the security they need on the PLTE network and the bandwidth they need for the solution.
To connect everything they want to, they can use the CBRS to connect all the remote services, including video, where they could not do so before.
Generally, cities have buildings all over the place so they could, in theory, use the rooftops for the initial distribution since they most likely have fiber there.
What you didn’t think of:
Do you know that the sewers need to be monitored? This is something that can be done easily with a camera and CBRS spectrum.
Do you know that it’s not easy to read city meters, electric, water, or gas, in some neighborhoods? Again, smart meters with CBRS makes sense.
Do you know that people’s traffic has become a telltale sign of problems? This can be monitored using apps and cameras. While privacy is a primary concern, we have to balance it with safety. Cameras can help us be proactive.
Do you know that schools can’t provide home coverage for their students? What CBRS could provide them the solution they need in a laptop? Wi-Fi is the current solution. Kids go to Mcdonalds or somewhere with free Wi-Fi to do their homework if they can’t get it at home.
Some cities need to have animal control. If they need to monitor animals and they can’t run fiber everywhere, then the CBRS spectrum and PLTE can solve these issues.
Tourism is a huge income generator in many cities, large or small. So they have installed large interactive kiosks to help people find their way around the city. Why run fiber when all you need is power and a CBRS radio. Even in malls, it makes sense.
Lighting is monitored in real-time now that smart LED lighting is out there. If a light is out, or a pole gets hit, or if it’s using excessive electricity, you could know that real-time. Connect them wirelessly.
Water levels matter, especially if there are drought or flood concerns. Connect those sensors wireless to not only get alarms but verify levels in real-time.
Trash cans get full, often without anyone knowing it except the people trying to throw trash away. This can be monitored in real-time using wireless connections. Keep your city clean!
There are a few things police like to monitor that many forget about. The increase of homeless, especially in winter months, and drunks who pass out in the street. While video covers this, it’s not always in the populated areas where this happens. It’s generally in back alleys and park benches in parks. Monitor them with wireless video, if you’re allowed to and privacy is not an issue.
Smart City Solutions
Many city services will be Smart city solutions. The thing is, when looking at a smart city you could have anything under that section. Look above at the City Government solutions and think of these along with it.
Do you want to offe3r internet to small businesses? If you don’t have a reliable carrier or a cable company in your city, then you could build your own or maybe offer a utility a break to roll it out in the city. I think that CBRS makes more sense than running fiber to every home. It’s more efficient.
What about all the new services that you will offer, like smart lighting? Again, it can be added and monitored using CBRS PLTE.
You may want to provide a backhaul for Wi-Fi all over the city, CBRS would do that efficiently over running fiber everywhere.
Any smart City offer can be wireless connected.
When rolling out an option to carriers, could quickly provide wireless coverage by putting a simple CBRS radio in every pole. Look at the Mini Carrier section to see what you could do there. It’s the same concept.
However, the Smart city solution may not be every service for everyone. This is crazy. Let the city become smart one service at a time. If you can be a conduit, like providing a connection to all the meters in the city, then go that route. Once they are all connected, then all you need is the software solution to connect and read them all. Then an app to be the interface to the end-user.
If you want a smart city then build the tools around what will make it smart. Come up with a plan to get the most out of your piece to support all the other pieces.
Don’t shoot for the moon, you may not reach it or you may run out of money before you get there. Try to solve smaller problems, then build on what you have to solve the next problem.
I am not saying that overachievers won’t make it, what I am saying is to take it one step at a time. Then, build off of what you have achieved to reach the next level.
Manufacturing and Warehousing
I have designed many manufacturing networks in Wi-Fi, but to be honest, I have no idea how the new networks will be built beyond the wireless solution. They are using AI and adding interfaces to automate manufacturing.
The AI factor and the 3D printing capabilities may make it cost-effective enough to bring more manufacturing back to the US and Canada. That would be awesome for our countries.
After seeing how the COVID-19 pandemic caused so many problems with having one resource for manufacturing in the world. It’s an eye-opener.
I can’t believe we didn’t see it coming, but to any business, cheap is cheap. They often cut off their nose to spite their face when cutting corners. Especially telecom suppliers. They had no backup plan.
What does that tell you? They all want to minimize resources in North America yet, they need North American margins to cover their extremely low margins in China. All the work is in China, yet all the money comes from North America. Hello!
Support the people you take money from!
Sorry, I digressed.
If you want to know more about manufacturing models, then look at these links. These cover Wi-Fi and PLTE.
Farming, Heavy Equipment, and Mining
I have to tell you, before self-driving cars were common, about 8 years ago, I was working on self-driving systems for mining operations. They were trucks that could drive themselves from Point A to Point B with a load of dirt, then dump it, then return to Point A to reload.
Yes, 8 years ago this was a thing. They were safe, had cameras and sensors on fronts, sides, and backs so that they knew if someone was around them. Remember this is a mining operation where there are not crazy people running out on the road. Pretty isolated and desolate.
That is where all of this, from my perspective, began. In the mines.
I was working on wireless systems for mines around the world with Alcatel-Lucent when they tried to be creative with their small cell LTE solutions. They would get spectrum from a carrier, lease it since CBRS was not available, and deploy the network all across the mine, maybe up to 50 square miles, so that the workers could have communication and they could track and talk to every piece of equipment on the compound. Since most of these compounds were remote, they had to build everything from scratch.
Then, I worked with people who had farms where the tractors used GPS to completely farm the land. Whether they were plowing, planting, or harvesting, the same concept. However, with tractors, the GPS controlled almost everything.
Finally, for both models, drones became a new tool. They needed an aerial view of what they were doing. Farmers would use infrared to see the water and heat levels of the soil whereas mines could track activity and heating over the entire compound. Another tool they could use to see what is happening in real-time.
Today, they want all their tools to be connected at all times.
Unfortunately, the carriers have no desire to build in these areas with few customers. They will not invest in something that has a low return on investment.
This is where a PLTE would work as in a private network, mini carrier, or a rural solution would come in handy. The miners and farmers could even build their own network. Maybe a COOP could build it for the network for them.
These solutions, mines or farms, need to drive costs down and the way they are doing it is with technology. They rely on tech to help them optimize the operation with fewer live hands working and more tech working for them.
These industries are looking to improve production by running longer and cheaper than they ever did before.
If only farmers could grow toilet paper then the COVID-19 shortages could have been avoided.
All the same, these heavy equipment operations rely on tech and connectivity to keep things running error-free.
This is not a hypothetical, these systems are running today, just like cars are connected.
Acronyms and Definitions
- 4G – this is LTE wireless transmission format, if you don’t know what it is, ask Uncle Google. You know how to Google, right?
- 5G – new wireless transmission format, honestly, if you’re reading this wondering what 5G is, WTF?
- CapEx – this is normally the capital expense to deploy a network, like hardware and services to deploy upfront.
- LTE – Long Term Evolution, also known as a 4G wireless network used softly by carriers.
- MNO – Mobile Network Operator.
- OpEx – these are ongoing expenses after the initial installation of the network, recurring charges, monthly, quarterly, or annual, that the network needs to keep running, like rent, broadband fees, or other ongoing expenses.
- PLTE – Private LTE network.
- PTT – Push to Talk.
- RAN – Radio access network.
- Wi-MAX – this was a wireless transmission using IEEE 802.11.16 in the 3.5GHz spectrum before the FCC allocated it to CBRS using LTE format.
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