Private LTE Networks: here already

A serious train crash isn’t something I can properly imagine. It’s because they’re so out of the normal human context. Big, fast and very, very heavy. I suspect all readers can imagine the crunch of plastic and metal in a car parking accident and some may have had a sharper bump and the gut wrenching feel of the airbag going off. Think a 100 times more energy involved. Or 10,000, maybe 100,000 is closer to the mark. A friend who survived a collision with a small commuter train at a level crossing told me that when the rescue team found him dazedly walking in a field he was barefoot – the impact had ripped the shoes clean off his feet. Lucky man to be alive. The unlucky dead car was confetti for a kilometre along the line. The train was perfectly fine.  As reported by the BBC on 6th Nov 2018 a giant driverless train with 286 wagons filled with iron ore was safely derailed after 50km of increasing anxiousness. It was travelling at over 100km/hr thankfully through an unpopulated area of Australia. Had it arrived at the destination, a port,  the ore tsunami would have done untold damage, quite literally shunting all in front straight into the sea. More than a kilometre of speeding train is a special kind of wrecking ball.

The good news is that such accidents will be rarer as LTE Private Networks are in the process of transforming industries. Ericsson, along with the other two major infrastructure vendors, Nokia and Huawei, are actively promoting LTE equipment optimised for industrial use cases, bringing about ‘critical communications for Industry 4.0’ as Ericsson announces. Significant benefits are obvious: dedicated coverage, be that the Australian outback or a tunnel in central London, high speed and a fast route to digital transformation. One specific industrial case mentioned in Qualcomm’s white paper is Rio Tinto’s implementation across 15 mines, transport hubs, trains, ports and offices. With mega trucks, drilling machines (and let’s not forget those trains!) there’s an absolute safety imperative in removing human’s from what is a very dangerous environment. In parallel, efficiency gains are self-evident. The network is managed from a single NOC (network operation centre) and in this case with dedicated 1800Mhz spectrum. On site engineers can use push to talk, video share and have precise GPS control over equipment.

Not all gains from LTE private networks have to come from giant yellow dumper trucks. Lettuce picking can now be done on an individual basis, literally lettuce by lettuce, electronically with the farmer electively, growing, watering and harvesting a field selectively to match expected supermarket demand in an integrated supply chain. This has a many fold increase in yield, bringing us fresher produce with less waste, using a smaller quantity of targeted pesticide and providing the consumer full food provenance. In this example we can imagine how a farmer may work with a mobile operator and request a business solution with a guaranteed network slice whereas the distributor has a concentrated pick and pack warehouse with a dedicated network.

Ocado, a food delivery retailer and another early adopter of this technology was cited as having the most densely packed mobile network in the world, with it’s warehouse having over 1000 picker robots and communications every 100ms. Cambridge Consultants redesigned a scheduler running on top of the LTE network. Between these private networks at the farm and distributor, the lettuce, no doubt cossetted in a smart IoT enabled crate, is tracked seamlessly by the operator across the public LTE networks, making certain critical temperatures are never exceeded.

Every industrial vertical will be touched by this emerging technology. IoT and Private LTE networks will have a significant part to play in what will be a fundamental technological transition. Current mobile operators, industry leaders and mobile equipment manufacturers will be forced to find new ways of working together. This article is written at a time when we move from early adoption to mass market enablement. From leading edge to daily use. Mobile operators announce working 5G in the UK and across Europe. Equipment manufacturers now carry a fully suite of proven technology.

Where there may be some latent slowness in adoption is with the markets ability to rebalance for this opportunity. Azenby sees mobile equipment manufacturers are currently scaled only to touch large operators. And Operators currently touching industry through SIM and handset bundles. Meanwhile industry has a vast quantity of private mission critical data and a desire to control its’ manufacturing process end to end.

Azenby has actively engaged in these debates through spectrum requests, due diligence analysis, architectural review and partnership creation – we are at the beginning of the journey, but whether your business is in the fields of Lincolnshire amongst lettuce or in a mine with a mega machine – LTE private networks and their impact will be significant. It’s time to learn more. None of us can afford to be wandering around the field dazedly after the event. Whether there’s a need for advice on frequency and spectrum legislation, business support, partner discussion, RFQ creation, strategic review or technology analysis, Azenby can help and we have worked with customers and private LTE networks in UK, Europe and the Middle East.

Back to the start – the train that was derailed to avoid a catastrophe was owned by mining giant BHP, not Rio Tinto. The driver had alighted from the train to check on a wagon and then couldn’t re-board. Us humans aren’t always smarter than the algorithms!  “The damage bill from BHP’s catastrophic iron ore train derailment could be exacerbated by millions of dollars in fines if the company is found to have breached safety protocols” investigators from the Office of the National Rail Safety Regulator reported in The Australian, adding to the woe’s that BHP face given closure of the line. Could perhaps the cost of a private LTE network be justified by just one days lost production and shipment of iron ore? And with our lettuce example we are reminded Ocado’s Andover warehouse was burnt to the ground in early 2019 after fire fighters failed to dampen the initial fire. Some reports suggest robot pickers accidentally spread the fire. Fortunately no one was injured. As a measure of the staggering robustness of Ocado integrated logistic network deliveries after the 1st week were largely unaffected. Bravo to good engineering!

Now is truly the time to gain a better understanding of private LTE networks. We would be happy to help make sure no one is left behind on this critical journey. Contact Azenby to help you generate a clear LTE private network action plan.

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