You are responsible for delivering a fit-for-purpose, industrial/mission critical, wireless infrastructure to your internal customers. This infrastructure will have to handle all their various current and foreseeable needs. You need to deliver performance, flexibility, and efficiency for all your customers fixed, nomadic and mobility use cases. Do you think you can do it with a single new technology? What about the technologies you might already have in place and how to complement them with LTE Mobility. Let’s look at real-life Private Industrial/Mission-Critical Networks, and what you need to build them.
In recent weeks I have been meeting with many organizations in different verticals and countries. There is a common discussion occurring, centered about what wireless infrastructure is best suited for each use case. One client said it very well – “ Louis, I live in a small condo, and I am not very handy, but I would not be able to manage with a simple screwdriver. I also need a hammer, a set of pliers and a few other tools in my bag. So how can I possibly build a network with a single tool like LTE?”
Whatever you are planning, a new network or complementing an existing one(s), you need to start with a thorough needs analysis for each one of your internal customers. This analysis will determine the best fit-for-purpose wireless network architectures, technologies and designs to best address the various needs. In a private network, just like in large carrier network, a single network technology cannot serve every purpose; it is just not realistic. Regardless, if you are responsible for the wireless infrastructure in O&G, Mining, Utilities, Transportation, military or any other industrial, or mission critical vertical, you will not be able to solve all the use cases with a single wireless technology. Despite what some manufacturers would like you to believe, it is not the case. Take any complete service provider out there, none of them rely on a single technology, how could you? In your infrastructure, you will likely need a backbone layer, a transport layer and at least one access layer, most likely two.
There is a lot of marketing about LTE, and rightfully so, it is a very interesting technology; however, it just cannot be expected to be the most effective way to deliver every use case at every site type and all various capacity requirements you are responsible for delivering. LTE is here to stay, but not here to replace all Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, PTP licensed microwave or a PMP L2 transport layer. For simplicity, let’s focus on the terrestrial wireless technology needed for private infrastructure. We can look at satellite solutions in another article. In most industrial/mission critical Private terrestrial wireless networks, there are four main wireless network layers:
- Backbone network (between main communications towers) – Unless you only need a single tower, because you have a very small area to cover, you will likely need backbone connections between multiple towers. The type and characteristics of this backbone will depend on what traffic type it has to carry. If you deploy a Centralized LTE Core, for your Private LTE, you will need this layer very well designed, and it will need to deliver the proper amount of capacity with very low and stable latency. If you are to distribute your LTE Core or locate it in the cloud, you have fewer demands on your Backbone. For more information on centralized vs. decentralized, please refer to the following article on the blog. Here
- Broadband PMP Transport Layer (from the towers to the fixed/nomadic remote sites) – This is a very important layer in the network. The Transport layer is almost always a broadband PMP (point-to-multipoint) layer that connects all your remote fixed and nomadic sites to the nearest main communications tower. This network has to be fast, with very low latency and must be as transparent as possible to applications and latency. Most of these networks layers are at L2 (layer-2), to preserve as much protocol transparency as possible. The importance of this network has to do with the quality of the connectivity you will be offering for your LTE offload or any traffic that does not require mobility or very heavy traffic you wish to offload temporarily or permanently. Think about your average Starbucks or your office Wi-Fi, or even the Airport Wi-fi. Most of them connect to the Internet via a PMP Transport layer (unless they have fiber). The more going through this PMP Transport Layer, the less tax on your precious mobile LTE network. Remember that the Tier One service providers all expect you and I to “offload” the LTE network as we enter a Starbucks or an airport or a mall. It is good for you and them. The same will apply to your private LTE network.
- Fixed Access Network (usually your remote Wi-Fi “bubbles”) – This layer is where end-user devices will connect. Hence Wi-Fi is by far the favorite solution. There are tens of billions of devices with Wi-Fi interfaces included. Pretty much every tablet, smartphone, PC and even I/O device like printers, scanners, cameras are now coming with built-in Wi-Fi. The BYOD (Bring Your Own Device) acronym is now part of daily communication and IT language. Even my mother has a Wi-Fi printer in her house to print from her tablet. Wi-Fi is the fixed cell layer of choice, even at 35,000 feet on a commuter flight. Just as described above, in the Transport layer section, depending on how much traffic your end users will generate when at a fixed location, be it temporary or permanently, you will want to equip your network with this “offload” capability. It is good for you and your users. If you already have a Wi-Fi access layer in place today, do not get rid of it, it will serve you well for many years to come. Its role will change, and it will become complementary to your new Private LTE network, but never the less it will remain important. Note that I did not mention Wi-Fi MESH, but Wi-Fi. Although there is a place for Wi-Fi MESH in industrial /mission-critical applications, I see less net new MESH deployments, as more and more applications are not able to deal with low latency or latency jitter (variation in the latency) associated with MESH. In some cases, the MESH feature is disabled and turned into fixed-path PMP Wi-Fi.
- Mobile Access Network (Mobile LTE) – LTE is the most recent and the most exciting layer/technology of the network if you ask me. The above-described layers all have been there for years, and we know and understand them LTE is a well know acronym, from all, even in remote developing markets where it is not even installed, but yet, anxiously expected. LTE is without a doubt the most proven, viable and technologically promising mobile Access layer. There are many flavors already offered, to best fit, the various mobility needs of people and machines best. LTE is no longer restricted only to large Tier One and Tier Two carriers, but it is now available for enterprise clients that wish to have their own Private LTE network.
The fact is that you will likely need at least the above four network layers/technologies. Anyone telling you, they can do it all, with a single network layer/technology such as LTE is not being realistic. There is much more to write about the four network layers, and I will cover them in upcoming articles. There are also other secondary layers that can be “bolted-on” such as Bluetooth, LTE NB IOT, Narrowband and others we will cover in other articles. However the most important is to understand what your internal customer(s) needs are – your private wireless architectures, technology choices, and designs will all come from these findings.
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