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Bring on the private networks with critical capabilities

Government agencies and companies often have stringent critical communications requirements. What a blessing then that they can now benefit from the new generation of private 5G networks that has emerged. Here’s a look at how new innovative applications tap into critical broadband networks’ capabilities to unleash the potential for operational transformation, automation, and efficiency. And how such a safe, secure business- and mission-critical communications environment unlocks seemingly limitless fresh business potential throughout the 3GPP ecosystem.

Head of Technology Strategy & Portfolio Development

Drone inspecting oil rig

Head of Technology Strategy & Portfolio Development

Head of Technology Strategy & Portfolio Development

How can a public safety agency ensure that it operates as smoothly as possible, guaranteeing the effectiveness of its mission-critical functions? By making good use of 4G and 5G network features and services known as critical capabilities. And in the same way, many companies and industries can rely on network-enabled business-critical applications to ensure their success. Indeed, organizations and societies alike have much to gain from tapping into the high-performance, low-latency, reliable and secure connectivity characteristics of private networks with critical capabilities.

Today’s private cellular networks are evolving to address a whole host of new use cases, from minute battery-operated IoT sensor devices to high-speed, high-definition mission-critical communications and video processing. These high-performing networks allow industries to confidently tap into innovative applications that benefit from advancements in sensor technology, automated guided vehicles (AGVs), drones, heavy machinery automation, robotics and more.

Advancements in video technologies are being used in many industrial applications, from remote monitoring of assets to real-time virtual control of machinery, making the network critically important in industrial and enterprise operations. 

Technologies such as virtual and augmented reality (AR and VR) and high-definition video are being combined with advanced analytics to enable services including remote inspection of objects and anomalies. These new developments will power many of the applications of the future. These advancements are evolving rapidly and putting new, unique and demanding requirements on the underlying networks. They are also reinforcing the need for high-performance critical network capabilities.   

This new generation of 4G and 5G networks is enabling devices once constrained by wires or Wi-Fi to be more nomadic in nature. Now truly mobile devices will be able to venture well beyond the cable and the walls, moving freely around the industrial site or campus with ability to integrate with service providers’ networks when necessary. The evolution will be catalyzed by the capabilities of 5G networking, which has the potential to be one of the biggest innovation platforms we have ever seen.

What are mission-critical communications services? They are voice and data services that help to prevent injury and loss of life, and minimize economic impact during disaster and emergency situations. What are business-critical communications services? They are voice and data services that help to prevent severe financial and economic issues involving property, business or society.

Key technologies trigger the need for critical network performance

The latest private networks can effectively deliver the critical performance needed by applications that require high-speed, high-volume data created by a new generation of devices. These applications range from massive wireless sensor networks, to 4K video cameras, to AR and VR headsets. Critical networks also support advanced voice and video communications including Voice over LTE (VoLTE), mission-critical push-to-talk (MC-PTT), mission-critical push-to-video (MC-PTV), and other voice and messaging services. These services bring a new generation of rich real-time industrial communications which can be used to further improve critical connectivity to boost safety, security and the effectiveness of operations. At the end of the day, these critical services are used to save lives, which makes every aspect of a critical network infrastructure important. 

Man working with VR glasses

The factory of the future where AR and VR increase efficiency

Even more exciting is fact that these networks are being connected and even collocated with high-performance edge compute and cloud infrastructure. Here, applications can process things locally like real-time video analytics. They can also tap into machine learning and AI in real time, without sending massive amounts of data instantaneously to centralized clouds. This enables concepts such as smart manufacturing and the “dark factory” to become mainstream.

So, it is becoming clear that business- and mission-critical applications that enable real-time control of robotics, remote vehicles, advanced manufacturing processes, automated warehouse operations, and smart utility grids are becoming an essential part of operational evolution strategy across many different industries. Critical private cellular networks have the key characteristics required to connect the business- and mission-critical machines, devices, sensors and people that can bring about these industrial advancements. Let’s take a closer look at these capabilities and consider how they are evolving to meet current and future industry needs.

The evolution and importance of critical capabilities

5G is steadily becoming a cornerstone of future networks as it brings new capabilities to address new critical network capabilities. 5G NR radios can support new spectrum bands like mmWave, which provide vast capacity for data-hungry use cases. 5G standalone (SA) networks streamline the data and signaling flow between the radios and the applications. The emergence of Time-Sensitive Networking into 3GPP supercharges the Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) which enables true real-time and deterministic connections.  Connecting the device to core networks and on to the local application with deterministic real-time performance below 10ms or even 5ms enables support for many real-time control solutions that could never be wireless – until now. These capabilities are unique to 5G and will usher in a new era of wireless communications across many industries.

They allow new real-time applications in robotics, real-time control, and haptic interfaces to be wireless. With the advent of network slicing, real-time operation can be controlled and operated in parallel with other supporting applications, other slices for sensor data, communication services, and so on, without compromising the high-performance slice. The extraordinary potential has never been seen before in our industry, and it opens up new high value, high-impact opportunities within the 3GPP ecosystem. As the industry embarks on this journey, there are key trends developing in the ICT domain that will trigger the need for network modernization.

End of life for existing narrowband mission-critical networks

Most private local networks have long been based on access technologies such as Ethernet, fiber, Wi-Fi and private wide area network rely on aging WiMAX, CDMA450 or LMR (based on P25 or TETRA standards) technologies. With the emergence of more demanding, real-time, data-driven use cases, these networks are unable to solve certain key issues faced by the enterprise or communication service provider. Given the significant potential impact of any communications incident on operations (including loss of life in the worst-case scenario), a migration toward more resilient, high-performance critical 3GPP-based networks is taking place.

Public safety agencies have become early adopters of new private networks technology, with one of the most significant and unique cases being FirstNet in the US. The success of its nationwide public safety broadband network is encouraging other verticals with critical needs to follow suit.

FirstNet: the facts With the FirstNet Network, public safety gets a dedicated “fast lane” that provides highly secure communications every day and for every emergency. FirstNet delivers specialized features to public safety that are not available on wireless networks today – such as priority access; preemption; more network capacity; and a resilient, hardened connection. The network is delivering more than just a public-safety-dedicated wireless connection – it is also creating devices and apps ecosystems that will connect first responders to innovative, life-saving technologies.* *

Other examples of early adopters include port operators that are focusing on autonomous operations and experience inconsistent performance and high maintenance costs for existing Wi-Fi solutions. Mining companies are looking to increase worker safety, boost operational efficiency, and introduce highly reliable autonomous vehicle operations, but today have to grapple with complex Wi-Fi solutions that struggle to effectively cover diverse mining sites where one radio can replace 60 Wi-Fi access points. Utility companies are looking to private networks to address their needs relating to smart metering, power distribution and field operations. All these industries are increasing their reliance on networks that maintain a mission-critical performance and reliability level.

High-bandwidth data streams drive new applications

Many of the new high-impact applications of today are incorporating AR, VR, high-definition-video-based applications for remote inspection, monitoring, surveillance and control. Use cases combining high-definition video with video analytics and machine learning enable the accomplishment of tasks in a more efficient, safe and effective way than manual labor. In some video-based applications, analysis can be performed that human being could not carry out. For example, real-time video analytics can be used to detect anomalies or inaccuracies in production operations, which could not be detected by a human observer. Hazardous inspection tasks can be executed by remote drones or robots, and heavy machinery can be highly autonomous and operated remotely. Safety and security monitoring can be extended to look for anomalies, compliance with standards and regulations, and many other cases all operating 24/7/365 – and no overtime pay is required to get the job done. Live remote wireless video production cameras can be enabled on site whenever and wherever needed without fiber, cables or satellites. It’s creating new opportunities for innovation and operational efficiencies across many industries that were never possible before.

Man working on multiple screens

Video plays a big role in applications used in private networks

The power of video enables a wide spectrum of new use cases. Real-time video with remote control can take a human out of danger (in a mine, for example), prevent the waste of large volumes of material in manufacturing, and enable new remote monitoring and inspection services across many industries. Critical private networks provided by the service provider or in conjunction with locally deployed networks enable these applications to be deployed with maximum flexibility while meeting the high performance and reliability characteristics needed as industry operations become more reliant on them.

Plenty of room for fresh opportunities

Private networks will create new business potential for governments, industries and enterprises, unlocking new applications and use cases that can increase operational efficiencies, eliminate waste, maximize business performance, increase worker safety, save lives, and provide new experiences for enterprises and consumers. From providing new rich video experiences to saving lives, critical private networks are just at the beginning of the journey towards enabling the multitude of new opportunities on the horizon. It’s a unique golden opportunity for equipment vendors, service providers, system integrators, device players across the 3GPP ecosystem to come together and enable a new set of companies from many industries to benefit from the power of 4G and 5G. Let’s go make it happen!

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