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Accelerating digital transformation across large and remote sites

We spoke with Ian Pennell, Chief Product Officer at Cradlepoint to get his take on how wireless private networks can be the backbone of operational transformation.

As businesses across Canada look to improve and transform their digital capabilities, there is increasing need for cost effective and reliable ways to connect machines, employee devices and sensors.

Whether to explore additional automation or manage connectivity at remote sites, business leaders are seeking agile solutions that provide reliable and secure network connectivity over large, multi-site areas—without giving up the visibility, control, and interoperability of existing WAN infrastructures.

To explore how industry leaders are approaching these problems, we’ve reached out to thought leaders in the communications industry to get their perspective on how these connectivity requirements can be resolved.

We recently spoke with Ian Pennell, Chief Product Officer at Cradlepoint, about Wireless Private Networks (WPNs) can help accelerate digital transformation.

Why and how can business benefit from private networks?

When we look at private cell networks, we often think about them in terms of coverage area. So operations with large coverage areas- like airports, malls, factories, mines, warehouses, stadiums and even someplace like a forestry service. They can struggle with traditional connectivity approaches such as wireless LAN, public WiFi, and public cellular networks. Wireless LAN and  WiFi networks really don’t “densify” cost-effectively—and this is especially true over large distances—and public networks don’t allow for quality of service control. This potentially leaves mission critical applications at the mercy of traffic congestion and capacity.

Where Cradlepoint comes into play is with our routers, powered by NetCloud Service, that utilizes private LTE/5G to mitigate these barriers while providing the performance, security, and centralized management that business-critical network infrastructures require. For example, a large oil and gas service provider uses Private Cellular Networking to maintain health and safety guidelines for the workers servicing large containment vessels. Workers in closed containers need air quality sensors that closely monitor oxygen and contaminate levels. In this case WiFi couldn’t scale and the number of workers (3000+) was easily accommodated by LTE technology.

How are you seeing the private cellular network market evolving in Canada? And, as a global company, what trends are you seeing worldwide?  

In Canada and Australia, the mining industry is one of the first industries to implement Wireless Private Networks (WPNs).. We are seeing operators around the world use their own licensed spectrum to build out private networks in remote areas.

Other use cases include supporting military and border protection with private 5G networks. Shipping ports and other points of entry need bandwidth for sensor surveillance as well as tele-remote operation of ship to shore container cranes.

A growing third area involves temporary LTE networks for fighting fires in remote areas. While traditional  WiFi could be used, a single LTE cell can cover an area for 30-40 access points. Overall, we see Canadian operators leveraging their licensed spectrum to create an OPEX model for customers to implement WPN in a more cost-effective way vs. using  WiFi or public cellular.

What industries stand to benefit the most from private cellular networks? Any interesting deployment or examples you can share of what enterprises can or will do with Cradlepoint routers and service?

The biggest evolution we’ve seen is wider acceptance and increased use of the concept of Private LTE, even beyond industries that are traditionally strong in technology. Two years ago, this was a really new idea and faced skepticism, but since then, we’ve seen it spread out of the initial verticals and into some unexpected ones. We’ve also seen it expand beyond a predominately IoT use case for LAN network replacement and into connecting fixed locations as a replacement for traditional WAN networks.  

In the US, we have one of the largest malls using private networks for connectivity. Also, a major oil and gas company deployed an on-site private LTE network to keep IoT devices and wearables connected at their refineries. These are just to mention a few.

What about private 5G? Will that be a gamechanger for wireless cellular networks, specifically private networks?

5G is driving interest in and acceptance of private networking. Some of the advantages of 5G, including high throughput and low latency, will not be quickly available on the public 5G network, but can be rapidly implemented with private 5G. Those technical capabilities are so compelling that enterprises are willing look to an operator to offer an OPEX driven private networking model to able to access them.   

And now with Private Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) available, does that accelerate the interest in moving to Private Networking?

Yes, again with a focus on taking advantage of low latency. One of the main advantages of MEC is that computing is moved closer to data sources and local action. With private networking, computing can be moved on-premises, and the power of cloud edge computing can be accessed with very low latency. Microsoft Azure Private Edge Zones are a great example of moving edge computing capabilities from the cloud to the mobile operator edge to on-premises.

There’s also a security component to MEC with private networking. One of the use cases for private cellular networking is the need to keep data “on-premises.” Surveillance video and cargo surveillance sensors are an example of that. We’re working with a cities and ports that want to deploy private cellular to connect their devices to a private network, which will allow them to analyze in real-time this sensor data from around the city. They don’t want that information to leave the private network, but still want to leverage machine learning and AI to analyze the information. Using MEC on-premises will allow them to use cloud analytics capabilities while ensuring data is held locally.

To find out how a wireless private network can enhance your operations, contact a Rogers for Business representative.