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Taking Advantage of CBRS for Private LTE Networks

network-IoT

IoT Network
(Image: Pixabay)

Connected devices have become a crucial part of the operation of equipment and resources for many enterprise applications, leading to a desire for drastic improvements in mobile connectivity options. Fortunately, we’ve now reached a point where a business can develop its own private LTE network and take advantage of cellular technology once only available through larger mobile networks.

In particular, the FCC’s recent move to make new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) bands available is a huge game-changer. This newly available high-speed spectrum empowers businesses to implement their own private LTE networks. It also allows them to gain a better level of control with scalable capacity expansion, easily deployable and cost-efficient network capabilities, and much higher security compared with Wi-Fi.

Let’s take a closer look at the key components that go into a CBRS-powered private LTE network.

What is a private LTE network, and why would you want one for your business?

Private LTE networks are a relatively new, miniaturized version of large-scale networks that most people are familiar with through their mobile phones. These make it possible for businesses to operate advanced on-site mobile networks.

As far as CBRS, it will enable businesses to connect, develop, and test new business models with neutral host networks and roaming capabilities. This, for example, can be used to implement a closed network for applications like wide-scale warehouse monitoring solutions, or for a connected system of robots for a manufacturing floor.

Specifically, private LTE offers some compelling advantages over the most common form of mobile connectivity at business locations today – Wi-Fi. For one, Wi-Fi can be susceptible to congestion, spectrum noise, and interference, whereas private LTE faces less interference and has a longer range. This means higher reliability, improved performance and wider reach with less access points than Wi-Fi. A second advantage is that private LTE uses the same security infrastructure and protocols as cellular technologies, making it much more secure than Wi-Fi.

The advanced capabilities of the CBRS spectrum can accommodate most business needs, but the design and deployment of the network must be tailored to each business. As one consideration, private LTE and Wi-Fi are complementary, and it’s important that businesses make the most efficient use of each technology’s capabilities. For example, standard employee roles and visitors may be better allocated to Wi-Fi connectivity, while private LTE may be better deployed for more crucial systems, such as healthcare monitoring and industrial robotics.

How is a private LTE network implemented with CBRS?

There are three core pieces that need to be properly set up and connected for the network to function: the LTE small cells, the core network (Evolved Packet Core, or EPC), and the Spectrum Access Service, or SAS. The first two make up the main components of the LTE network, and the SAS allows a business to utilize CBRS safely and without interfering with critical communications of government and military agencies.

While the small cells function similarly to Wi-Fi access points, these lower-powered radio access nodes are one of the most important parts of a private LTE network. To minimize latency, jitter, and other complications, they must be synchronized properly to perform efficient handoffs between cells and ensure high performance across the internal network architecture. One way to do this is to make sure all routers and switches support and enable Precision Time Protocol, and another is to allow for each small cell to receive a strong GPS signal from multiple satellites. Both of these will significantly aid in node synchronization.

Evolved Packet Core

And just as with a Wi-Fi network, IT teams need to account for distance between nodes, local power outlets, and building materials when planning small cell placement. It’s vital that a business tests its LTE network to evaluate signal strengths, download speeds, and handovers when initially implementing the network, to check for any problems that need to be fixed. After that, the next step is to establish the core network – known as the Evolved Packet Core, or EPC.

The EPC is the most complicated part of implementing a private LTE network, and an LTE mobile network simply cannot properly function without the capabilities that an EPC offers. Composed of dozens of different yet equally important components, there are any number of possible EPC configurations for a given network. The distinct architecture that will work best for a specific business is entirely dependent on that business’s network and application needs. However, the knowledge and skill to troubleshoot the EPC aren’t something the average IT department will have. For this reason, it’s best to partner with a vendor that has the specialized knowledge to ensure a successful launch of a private network.

Spectrum Access Service

The last element needed to take advantage of CBRS’s high-performance spectrum is the Spectrum Access System, or SAS. The good news here is that the SAS service is pre-integrated with CBRS small cells, so there is no separate step needed. Through existing partnerships between SAS providers and CBRS small cell manufacturers, there is a small monthly subscription fee for the service.

As small cells are installed and come online, they check in with the SAS to get their spectrum allocation. The SAS grants access to mid-band CBRS spectrum, allowing the small cells to connect to their respective EPC once the green light has been received. The SAS then provides ongoing management of the spectrum for secure, interference-free performance. But this process can be complicated if there are any routing or connection problems on the network, which is why it’s vital to properly set up the small cells from the start.

Should you get started with private LTE for your business?

These LTE networks can be a powerful tool to support use cases from business connectivity to field IoT operations. While implementation can be a bit complicated if an IT team doesn’t have the time or training to gain expert knowledge of the core network and the external issues involved, a private LTE network can be perfectly customized for a business’s exact needs. The value of a seamless network solution will only grow in value as IoT networks also become more valuable and more commonplace. If a current Wi-Fi network isn’t cutting it, a private LTE network may be the solution.