Awareness about how companies can use private networks for their Internet of Things solutions is growing, but large-scale adoption is not on the horizon until 2023 and beyond, panelists noted at last month’s Connectivity Expo event in Denver. The discussion, How IoT Intersects with Private Networks, explored various use cases for industrial private networks and how they might differ from other enterprise applications.
Boingo Vice President of Sales Justin Bushee moderated the session, which featured Brian Watkins, Executive Vice President, Sales and Business Development at Betacom Inc.; Kiel Ronning, Industry 4.0 Leader at John Deere; and Fuad Raja, CEO of FAR Consulting. The quartet discussed where private wireless networks are today, 5G’s ability to transform IoT, wireless carriers’ place in this new landscape and more.
Private networks’ current (and future) standing
When asked about the potential tipping point for private networks, Watkins acknowledged a domino effect could come into play as bigger companies begin to launch full-blown networks. He predicted a healthy level of activity as 2022 ends and the number of deployments in target industries will only continue to grow in 2023. “I think what we expect to happen is that certain verticals, in particular airports or manufacturing, or anything to do with supply chain like logistics (will be) the first movers,” Watkins said.
Meanwhile, Raja noted 2022 has remained more in the awareness phase for private networks rather than the adoption phase that many had predicted. The lack of adoption in part was because most of the use cases resided in the industrial sector, according to Raja. Some verticals, like home security, had the benefit of consumers spreading the word, but that is not likely going to happen in the industrial sector. Instead, it will be up to IT groups, enterprises and the developer community to continue to drive awareness to the point that adoption becomes more common.
“While we were hopeful in the beginning that 2022 would be the year where everything takes off, the adoption is lagging, but the awareness is clearly there,” Raja said. “I’ll say 2023 it might be here, but honestly there’s another big factor — CBRS. I think CBRS is going to come and coupled with 5G will make it much easier for that adoption to happen.”
Ronning noted that John Deere is well underway with its own 5G network. In the past year and a half, the company has participated in the CBRS spectrum auction, updated its spectrum license through the FCC, and obtained licenses in five counties throughout the Midwest, where it has significant manufacturing presence.
“We have stood up our first couple of networks and are starting to leverage those networks for these industrial use cases and extracting value out of them. We’re on that forefront and I think we’ll see that this continues to scale across the organization.”
How can 5G transform IoT?
A lot of the anticipation surrounding 5G has been about how the network will enable lower latency and faster download speeds and data transfers. When it comes to 5G’s impact on IoT, Raja seemed optimistic in its abilities to live up to the promises the industry has been hearing for a while.
“I think that 5G, with a resilience four to five times faster than 4G, the ability to build on the third generation 5G network, which eliminates a lot of the 4G peripherals, is going to be ideal,” Raja said. “You’ll be able to launch your 5G even in an area where the public 5G is not out yet over a private network. I think that the 5G network with the ability to provide extremely low latency, as well as operating in high density areas, is going to be the icing on the cake for some of the hindrance that industrial IoT has experienced since 2014.”
In terms of 5G as a service, Watkins noted 5G will be about much more than making users’ smartphones faster. This next generation of wireless will be key in ushering in Industry 4.0 as well as making more products autonomous and enhancing the ability to gather large amounts of data points on things as well as improving latency.
Watkins pointed to autonomous mobile robots as an example. In supply chain, many of these machines still run on Wi-Fi and they struggle due to handoffs and dead zones. Because all of the critical information resides within the robot, low latency is critical — one and a half milliseconds is the target that 5G networks can reach.
“5G will usher in the period where we can begin to move that intelligence into an edge cloud or some kind of on-premises capability,” Watkins said. “That’s taking all the logic out of the devices, lowering the overall cost, dramatically improving the performance. So, it’s going to have a significant impact on not just use cases today that can transform but the ones we haven’t even thought of yet that people are now beginning to play with in labs.”
How private networks can transform businesses
Private networks offer enterprises a chance to run their operations more efficiently, according to Ronning. Manufacturing processes can be reconfigured on the fly rather than having to call a contractor to run conduit and move hardwired connections.
“Being able to seamlessly plug in SIM cards and provision network connections enables us to deploy solutions faster, pick things up and move them around, rearrange furniture, etc., in our facilities,” Ronning said. “Then it starts to complement many of things we’re already doing, like video analytics and edge computing. We now have new mechanisms to get all that data from the shop floor, back into an edge infrastructure, and process it to extract insights and drive actions back to the factory. (The private network) justifies itself on just the speed of deployment and those costs.”
Raja also noted how when 5G is paired with edge cloud, latency can be decreased another 10 to 15 milliseconds compared to 5G, which can be crucial in use cases that require close to zero latency such as augmented and virtual reality (AR/VR), video surveillance and autonomous vehicles.
“It’s also that simplicity that I’m finding customer love this idea that they get to control the network, they own all the data in it and all of the access points of the network can sit behind their firewall,” Watkins added. “That is what we’re finding is resonating with most of them.”
How wireless carriers fit in the CBRS space
When the conversation shifted toward carriers and where they fit into the private network arena, Raja assumed they’ll likely roam on the spectrum, given their past participation, but did not want to speculate. He does believe that most of the major carriers will get into the private network game, however.
“I think the Verizons and AT&Ts of the world are going to say, ‘Okay, we’re also going to build your private networks in the fashion you want and your data is secure,’ ” he said. “I think with the private network resiliency, there is no choice but to play in that field. And they’re already starting to offer.”
Meanwhile, Watkins noted that the current need for private wireless networks might have stemmed from wireless carriers’ inability to address the issue earlier. As for whether carriers will fit in the private network space, he believes it will come down if they think they can make money from doing so. There are some scenarios where it might not be profitable for a carrier to operate, such as a remote location with just a handful of mobile devices.
“I think our challenge now is going to be how do we work with the ecosystem of these vendors and these providers of this spectrum to make it available,” Watkins said. “I’m finding that the successes we’re having exist because of the carriers, and that they’re looking to not buy back their data anymore. They’re looking for complete control.
“We talk about the device ecosystem available for the 4G world versus the 5G world, it is happening, it will grow. I think the bigger question then becomes, well, if you’re an enterprise, do I invest in 4G today? Do I invest in 5G today? And the answer is yes to both because they’re very complementary — one is just a natural extension of the other.”