2020 saw the successful conclusion of 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum auctions for Priority Access Licenses (PALs). Run by the FCC, the process raised $4.58 billion in bids and gave U.S. enterprises a golden opportunity to take direct ownership of their own future connectivity needs. This CBRS spectrum will fuel the rise of private LTE and private 5G networks the length and breadth of the United States, spanning industry vertical markets.
Industry analysts, ABI Research, last year predicted that private LTE networks alone would contribute more than $16 billion to the U.S. economy by 2025. 2021 will see U.S. enterprises take their first big step towards achieving this incredible potential.
Private networks and CBRS
The majority—if not all— of enterprises around the world need reliable connectivity to carry out day-to-day operations. Whether it be in the manufacturing, education, or health sectors. All will today rely on public LTE or Wi-Fi connectivity to keep their organizations moving. While this has proved to be a suitable solution for many enterprises around the world, for others—requiring more control with regards to network latency, capacity, and security—public networks have forced them to look for an alternative. That alternative is private networks. Unlike public networks, private connectivity offers the security, capacity, Quality of Service (QoS) guarantee, and deterministic latency requirements often needed by enterprises. Quite simply, private networks provide enterprises with a greater level of control than what is available through public alternatives.
The conclusion of the CBRS spectrum auction presents enterprises in the U.S. with a new private LTE—and eventually private 5G—network option. Prior to this, the two main options available to enterprises wanting to set
up their own LTE network were first, via licensed spectrum, whereby an enterprise would enter into an enterprise contract through a carrier—like AT&T or Verizon. Or second, via unlicensed spectrum, a less common approach which would see enterprises set up private LTE networks in unlicensed spectrum bands.
CBRS offers up a new way of delivering private LTE connectivity by leveraging both unlicensed and licensed spectrum—otherwise known as shared spectrum. This in turn opens up opportunities for new entrants to leverage and deliver LTE services in ways they have never been able to before. This enables the creation and monetization of new use cases and business models, such as IoT use cases in connected factory settings, that could not otherwise rely on Wi-Fi or public LTE connectivity.
What’s more, as we start to see more 5G roll outs, CBRS spectrum licenses will become all the more important as enterprises migrate from LTE to 5G networks to enable the ultra-reliable low-latency communications (uRLLC) and massive machine-type communications (mMTC) use cases promised by 5G.
So, what could those private LTE and 5G use cases look like?
A wealth of opportunities
The exciting thing about leveraging CBRS spectrum for private LTE is that it will bring robust connectivity and new levels of productivity and efficiency across a range of sectors. Private LTE will be key in supporting many
IoT use cases, for example, in the manufacturing industry. Increasingly, more and more factories are made up of connected machines, devices and sensors, all of which generate huge amounts of valuable data that needs to be moved across the network. Private LTE can guarantee the network capacity and resiliency required for these data-intensive production lines to be able to send large volumes of data from one location to another.
Another sector in which private LTE will come to be extremely beneficial is mining. Like manufacturing, mining also requires many different connected devices and sensors; many modern mining fleets include autonomous robots, drones and cameras for their operations, all of which will need to be connected to one reliable, secure network. Private LTE overcomes the limitations of public networks and allows mining fleets to digitize their operations, connecting not only devices, but staff and vehicles too, guaranteeing the control of critical equipment without interruption. This brings greater levels of automation, more productivity and enhanced safety.
And it’s not just in the industrial sectors in which private LTE can prove beneficial. In fact, schools and universities can leverage private LTE technology to guarantee connectivity for their students and staff across
their campus and dorms. This is especially important today in a world where more students are moving to remote learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Having reliable, secure connectivity is critical to both staff and students and while public Wi-Fi networks on campuses have been the norm for years, they rarely provide the capacity and speeds required by these large educational organizations. Private LTE brings not only capacity and speeds, but also security—a particularly important aspect for many schools and universities that require secure connections to share private or sensitive data.
Private networks have clear benefits for many enterprises over using public networks for their business connectivity. CBRS license holders have a huge opportunity to enter new markets, to benefit from this enhanced connectivity, but most importantly, to unlock new monetization opportunities and business models. This new opportunity will require a careful balancing act of needs to ensure enterprises choose a solution suited to their commercial and business objectives. This will come in many forms, from solutions based entirely on LTE connectivity, to others that leverage a hybrid of Wi-Fi and LTE/5G. Whatever the solution, it’s important that
license holders think carefully about business-driven solutions that focus on optimizing performance while minimizing cost.
For the U.S., CBRS represents an innovative step forward, one which will see the bringing to life of much-needed and much-anticipated LTE and 5G use cases. Now, it’s up to the CBRS license holders to build the right private networks that meet the needs of their customers. The race is on.