Originally published by RCR Wireless
Author: Kelly Hill
The private LTE market is expected to see significant growth over the next few years, according to a number of analysts’ projections. So what is private LTE?
What is private LTE?
Private LTE, quite simply, is envisioned as standards-based Long Term Evolution networks designed to serve specific enterprise business, government or educational purposes. They can be operated by traditional mobile They could also be operated by third party network providers.
In a white paper on the private LTE market opportunity for the IoT, Harbor Research defined a private LTE network as a “local LTE network that is utilizing dedicated radio equipment to service a premise with specific IoT applications and services. The use of dedicated equipment allows it to be independent of traffic fluctuation in the wide-area macro network. By focusing on specific IoT applications and services, the private LTE network can be tailored for more optimized performance such as low latency.”
In a recent webinar on private LTE, Alex Besen, CEO and founder of The Besen Group, defined private LTE as “a dedicated network for consumers, businesses and internet of things. Private LTE can be based on licensed, unlicensed for shared spectrum.”
What spectrum will be used for private LTE?
In the U.S., there are two emerging options for entities which want to operate private LTE networks: unlicensed spectrum at 5 GHz (which MulteFire is designed to do); or the 3.5 GHz spectrum known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band. The CBRS band rules are still being finalized by the Federal Communications Commission, but the FCC has set up a three-tiered, spectrum-sharing framework for the band. Incumbents include naval radar systems and some terrestrial and satellite internet providers, and those users will be protected from interference by other users in the band. The other two tiers are an unlicensed portion of the band, dubbed General Authorized Access; and Priority Access Licenses, which entitle the holders to prioritized access over unlicensed users within their geographic license area.
The FCC is still working on the final rules for the PALs; sticking issues have been the geographic size of the licenses and the length of the license terms. After the rules have been set, the FCC will hold a PAL auction.
How will private LTE be used?
Private LTE is being tested to support a number of use cases, from enterprise connectivity to IoT use cases. CDE Lightband, an electric utility and fiber network operator in Clarksville, Tennessee, was granted permission in February to put up one CBRS node in order to conduct a CBRS field trial for first responders. In San Francisco, CBRS is being explored to support smart city applications and connect IoT devices. The National Football League has asked the FCC for permission to test CBRS as a replacement in-stadium two-way radio communications. Extenet Systems has been testing CBRS for two years and already deployed CBRS-ready equipment for two wireless internet service providers which will use it to support services to their customers.
CBRS is expected to support multiple technology types, with private LTE being one of them. That spectrum is also expected to be used for typical capacity enhancements of commercial mobile networks; Verizon has already conducted CBRS testing in its live network and expects to have devices with CBRS support by the end of this year.
When will we see CBRS-based private LTE networks and devices emerge?
The CBRS Alliance is quick to note that as an ecosystem, CBRS launches don’t have to wait for the FCC.
“There is a wide-spread misconception in the industry that CBRS cannot be commercially deployed until the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reaches a final decision on Priority Access License (PAL) rules and the future 3.5 GHz PAL license auctions,” wrote Rashid Bhatti, business development at Casa Systems, in a recent blog entry for the CBRS Alliance. “General Authorized Access (GAA) usage will be possible much sooner, allowing service providers to deploy CBRS as early as 4Q 2018. The negotiations on PAL license rules will not stop –or even delay– CBRS from going commercial.”
However, there is still one government hurdle that is holding up CBRS development: final certification of the Spectrum Access Systems and Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC), which will enable the dynamic spectrum sharing and protection of incumbents and PAL holders.
“Good progress is being made on these fronts, and it will soon be ‘go’ time!” Bhatti wrote. “Further good news for GAA users is that they are permitted to utilize any portion of the CBRS band not assigned to a higher tier user – so until PAL licenses are issued, GAA users will be able to take advantage of the entire 150 MHz of CBRS spectrum.”
What companies are supporting private LTE development?
The three main industry groups working in support of private LTE in the U.S. are the CBRS Alliance, the Wireless Innovation Forum and the MulteFire Alliance. Some of the MulteFire Alliance members include Qualcomm, Huawei, Boingo, CableLabs, Ericsson, Softbank, Nokia, Samsung, Intel and Comcast. All four national wireless carriers are part of the CBRS Alliance, and other notable names include Nokia, Ericsson, Intel, Google, Ruckus Networks (now part of ARRIS), Samsung, American Tower, Extenet Systems, Huawei, CableLabs, Crown Castle, Cox, Comcast and Charter, among others.