Ericsson is set to light up a private network in Toulouse, France for Airbus, the world's second-largest aircraft manufacturer. The network will launch on LTE, but Ericsson and Airbus will test mmWave throughout 2021 in preparation for the launch of 5G on the network.
The network will operate in the 700 MHz and 2600 MHz TDD spectrum bands. The French government made frequencies in the 2600 MHz TDD band available for private companies to use starting in 2019. Part of the 700 MHz spectrum band was allocated to public safety in 2016, and the French government said at the time that it wanted the spectrum to also accommodate critical infrastructure operators and the French defense ministry. (Airbus makes Tetra radios and base stations for public safety and is a defense contractor.)
Ericsson deployed a redundant core network, which is connected to radios operating in both spectrum bands. The company said the network also supports NB-IoT.
The Toulouse site is used for both aeronautical engineering and final-assembly line production. Ericsson said the network will enable secure transfer of data between people and devices.
Ericsson's top 5 private network use cases
Sebastian Elmgren, Ericsson's portfolio manager for smart manufacturing, shared his thoughts about the company's growing private networks business on a company podcast released along with the Airbus news. He said the top five use cases for private network technology are:
- Automated mobile robots (independent robots)
- Collaborative robots (robots that work with humans)
- Augmented reality (used for quality inspection or remote training)
- Asset condition monitoring (used for predictive maintenance)
- Digital twins (digital replicas of physical systems)
Elmgren said Ericsson is able to see the private network equation from two perspectives because it is a supplier of connectivity solutions and an operator of factories. He said the company is working with private network technology at factories in Estonia, Sweden, China and the U.S., where it created a greenfield automated factory in Texas.
For Ericsson, the most promising industries for private wireless are manufacturing, ports, airports, mining, and energy, Elmgren said. He said that many manufacturers are under "constant pressure" to increase flexibility and that private networks can help.
"We can keep the cost down, be productive, but still have this flexibility to meet the market demands," he said. Ericsson is trying to make the technology as simple as Wi-Fi or Bluetooth, with much higher reliability and performance.
Ericsson's perspective on which industries and use cases can benefit most from private wireless may be slightly different from that of vendors who approach the market from an IT or systems integration background rather than a telecom networks background. Some of these companies are seeing strong demand for private networks from the education and healthcare sectors, but these might be solutions that an integrator assembles using equipment from several vendors. Ericsson has a chance to play in this market as well through its recent purchase of Cradlepoint, which makes cellular routers.