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Oct 08 2018

Mission not impossible: Small cells for some big challenges

All businesses have wireless networking requirements to deliver their communication needs – we often use the term 'business-critical' to describe these. But for some vertical markets, it’s no understatement to say that network demands are more than that – they are ‘mission-critical.’ Sometimes the extreme challenges they face can seem almost impossible. Well, almost... 

Take Nokia’s involvement in the pioneering Mission to the Moon project – quite possibly the ultimate expression of ‘mission-critical networks.’ As Vodafone’s exclusive technology partner, we will be deploying a 4G network on the Moon. Yes – you did read that correctly - on the Moon. 

To do this, we’re developing innovative technology – hardware and software – that is robust and advanced enough to survive the harshest, most unpredictable conditions, on the remote surface of the Moon. Through the leadership of Nokia Bell Labs, we’re using a small, miniaturized base station in order to fit within the physical constraints of the landing module.

Mission to the Moon showcases our ability to embrace and solve complicated problems by leveraging our communications technology. It builds on our expertise in small cell technology, which enables people to deploy networks in seemingly impossible places using miniaturization technology. The “Moon” Mission also uses a Private LTE network which is crucial for ensuring secure and reliable connectivity and controlled operations of the Audi Lunar Quattro rovers. In fact, we were chosen largely because of our leadership and expertise in creating LTE networks anywhere.

Take industries that operate in hazardous environments like petrol refineries, industrial chemical plants and utilities power plants. Or the remote off-shore locations of oil rigs and far-flung mining sites. Or the challenges of connecting multiple moving assets, like logistics, maritime and transportation (railways, airlines, etc.). All extreme environments where the slightest disruption or downtime can make all the difference, and even endanger employees and the wider public. Of course, with high-risk comes the potential for high reward, but stringent regulations and high requirements from each industry specific needs make this even more challenging, did we say interesting? 

Robust communications networks play a crucial role in keeping people and assets safe – where there is no room for compromise. Critical applications become even more important when operations span great distances and reach into remote and challenging locations. Reliability and 24/7 real-time supervision are essential. To maintain productivity and control operating costs companies need the ability to monitor and manage remote equipment, alarms, events, and valued field personnel. 

Many of these industries make extraordinary demands of their onsite workers and critical operations in their hands. It’s important to ensure that these workers remain safe, comfortable and productive. Good working conditions are crucial to stable production and supply from distant locations, as well as helping to recruit and retain highly skilled employees. As a result, these industries are increasingly turning to digitization to develop more efficient ways to reduce the cost and risk involved in operating in these extreme environments. 

Consider our LTE networks. Nokia's involvement in Private LTE began around six years ago, in response to vertical players looking for a wireless solution. Private LTE is best suited to environments with a lot of moving assets, a need to increase safety, or a desire to improve business through greater automation and digitalization. The beauty of LTE is its ability, using a single network, to support many different purposes for people and machines, but also replace traditional legacy radio technologies such as PMR. LTE is very sturdy and operates well even in harsh conditions with high levels of interference. It’s also highly secure. Each LTE small cell can support up to 800 active connections, so fewer access points are needed for simultaneously connected and active devices. 

Alongside this, small cells deliver cost-effective capacity and coverage indoors and outdoors. They’re the perfect vehicle to deliver the network connectivity for innovation. Nokia has made great progress with small cell deployment in recent years. In fact, Nokia is even deploying our Flexi Zone small cells, combined with MEC (virtual Multi-access Edge Computing to run IoT applications) within our own manufacturing & logistics hubs. Using this campus LTE, we connect hundreds of sensors, power tools, machines or even introduce new applications like inventory drones or collaborative autonomous AGV (Automated Guided Vehicles). We evaluate the added business efficiency and agility, the value of the intelligence we get from digitalization, the benefits of being able to act according to real-time information, and more.

We’ve already helped several organizations experience the full benefits of mission-critical wireless networking. For example, we deployed private LTE at Helsinki's Vantaa Airport, working together with Ukkoverkot Oy, a service provider focused on private LTE connectivity.

The Airport encountered limitations in its Wi-Fi for use by marshalling cars, which drive between aircraft to see that the runways and taxiways are clear of debris. These vehicles have to move quickly, and Wi-Fi was unable to provide the coverage and handle handoff between access points at sufficient speed. LTE was installed as an alternative. Beyond the initial use case, LTE small cells are now installed on the aprons to provide connectivity for technical crew, fueling workers and baggage handlers loading and unloading the aircraft.

Another example: at Mobile World Congress this year, Nokia showed a private LTE network it had installed on a container ship to track each container's vital statistics. The demo showed how, if one of the containers caught fire, it could be detected and extinguished very quickly. This caught the interest of quite a few companies in that field, because many container vessels have very limited container tracking capabilities. With such a system installed, as well improving safety, it would give these shipping companies a competitive differentiator, by offering customers the vital statistics of the journey of every single container on the shipper's vessels. 

Small cells are also making a big difference in the mission-critical area of mining. In the West Angelas mine in Australia, Rio Tinto’s Wi-Fi trailers were no longer up to the task. In response we delivered a private LTE network enabling fully automated mining operations, connecting pit fields, railways and ports. The field of land oil extraction has also seen transformation, with Beach Energy – also in Australia - contracting Nokia to deploy a network consisting of multiple LTE base stations in the remote Cooper Basin area, making Beach Energy one of the earliest adopters of private LTE networks in remote area in the oil and gas sector. 

So, as you can see, Nokia is every bit as progressive on Earth as it is out there in space. With Nokia communications solutions, you get expertise and technologies that can take your operations farther and into more remote environments. You get best-in-class planning, deployment and management services supported by experts in critical applications, Quality of Service requirements, and carrier-grade network design. And you get an easily and rapidly deployable network that combines products packaged for long-term operation in the field. The result is a powerful, intelligent solution that extends your on- and off-shore reach while allowing you to operate with greater reliability and lower risk. Mission most definitely not impossible. 

Do you operate in a mission-critical environment? See what Nokia can do for you. 

Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokia and @BellLabs using #missiontothemoon, #5G, #LTE, #smallcells

About Stephane Daeuble

Stephane is responsible for Small Cells and Flexi Zone global product marketing at Nokia. A self professed IT geek and gadget guy, he knows firsthand the value of high speed connectivity that Small Cells provide, and has been an active industry advocate on the role they will play in future HetNets and Ultra-Broadband. Connect with Stephane on LinkedIn