Options for deploying private wireless – you have a choice!
The digital transformation of most enterprise operations, from manufacturing, mining and power utilities, to logistics and transportation, involves connecting thousands of IoT sensors and devices. These Industry 4.0 use cases also require high bandwidth and reliable low latency communications to support the critical connectivity needs of OT applications.
These communications requirements make private wireless networks based on 4.9G, and 5G (coming soon) technologies, the straightforward answer for organizations pursuing Industry 4.0. However, there are also different architectural options for deploying private wireless networks, which make the choice less straightforward, which is what I want to cover in this blog post.
The local radio network for most industrial site applications of 4.9/5G will use small cells that are not dissimilar to Wi-Fi hot spots, although more sophisticated and with much better coverage — you need about one-tenth the number, depending on the application. In outdoor environments, for instance large surface mining operations, ports or offshore wind farms, you can even cover an extremely large area with just a few micro (2x5W RF), mini-macro (2x20W RF) or macro BTS, as in a mobile operator’s network.
To backhaul the radios, you would use either Ethernet, POL (passive optical LAN), microwave or fiber optics. At this point, things get more complicated because you have different architectural choices to make depending on the enterprise’s requirements. To make it simple, you have a choice of three main architectures:
- Autonomous private wireless: all functions, including core, management elements and applications, are deployed locally at the industrial site. Alternatively, if a company has more than one site that needs wireless services, all functions can be put at the company’s headquarters and an application edge cloud is deployed on site to improve reliability and latency. This is the traditional private wireless architecture.
- Private wireless as a service: all or most parts of the core and all applications are deployed locally on an edge cloud server, but the management elements sit in the enterprise data center or service provider cloud.
- Core “slicing”: only the minimum core elements and applications are deployed locally to ensure local enterprise data breakout (for confidentiality of the enterprise data), reliability and low latency. The rest of the core elements and applications run in the service provider cloud leveraging existing cloud core management.
The diagram below should help, as a picture paints a 1000 words...
This begs lots of questions, which I can’t possible answer in a single blog post. We have a white paper available here, if you want to dig deeper, but the most obvious question is why do one over the other?
At the end of the day, there are no good-bad options, as it will come down to each individual enterprise based on its strategy, number of sites to serve, and many other factors, such as who it will obtain its private wireless network from. I will cover the latter topic in a future blog, so for now we will focus on why you might lean towards one option or another.
The basic requirements for a private wireless network serving critical OT applications is reliability, coverage, multi-user capacity, low latency, and data security.
Both 4.9G and 5G use a cloud-native, virtual core that is, as we’ve seen, highly flexible. The factors above define the baseline architectural approaches that are common across these three viable architectures:
- Radio cells are deployed on site and dedicated to the site’s OT use case needs. This allows optimum coverage, dedicated capacity and the ability to adjust radio parameters (for example to increase uplink data rate – key in industrial applications) that would not otherwise be possible or realistic on a public radio network.
- Application processing needs to be done on site, to increase reliability and lower the latency.
- Data confidentiality and security mean that enterprise data needs to stay local, imposing a “local data break-out” function on site or at the HQ level.
The things that will vary, as you move from left to right in the chart above:
- Keeping full control of the enterprise OT network. Control and data confidentiality are so important that some enterprise customers do not even want the network control channels to leave the premises for fear it could be hacked in order to understand the site operation and status, and steal intellectual property.
- Reliability and availability to ensure continuous operation of the industrial sites, even if the environment around the factory is challenged (e.g., a backhoe breaking the fiber optics line, bad weather affecting satellite links for offshore operations, etc.)
Weighting the difference architectural choices in the opposite directions are the total cost of ownership (TCO), initial CAPEX and complexity.
We have just touched on some of the deployment options that are possible and what kinds of reasons might lead you to choose one over another. Choosing your best approach to implementing private wireless depends on multiple factors such as the character of various sites, IT team capabilities, and resources. Ultimately, you will need to look closely at your use cases, your appetite for learning about this new technology, and issues such as survivability and security.
In any case, Nokia is here to help you. We have extensive experience with private wireless deployments since 2015 when we did our first project with Rio Tinto. Nokia was also the first to launch a pre-integrated private-wireless-as-a-service with the Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) in 2018 with a focus on making private wireless as easy to use as Wi-Fi, and that comes with a set of digitalisation enablers. We also keep on improving our autonomous private wireless solution called MPW (Modular Private Wireless) based on the learnings from several 100’s of networks with over 150 customers. Finally, we have many partnerships with mobile operators and other channel partners to offer the widest range of options for private wireless. This is why we can provide an unbiased view of what solution approach would fit your needs best and help you to achieve your Industry 4.0 goals.
If you want to learn more about deploying a private wireless solution for your organization, download our white paper here.
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