Knowledge gap a key challenge for DIY private networks: Special Report

Samsung CBRS equipment
Experts said common questions from DIYers include those about spectrum, costs and equipment. (Samsung)

A wave of interest in private wireless networks seems to have taken the world by storm, but for enterprises and institutions looking to build their own network it can be hard to know where to start.

On Monday, May 10, a panel of experts is set to take a deep dive into the topic of DIY private networks during the FierceWireless Private Wireless Networks Summit, a free virtual event. Ahead of the session several panelists told Fierce those taking this approach face a range of challenges.

Inseego CTO Dan Picker said given the newness of the field “I think that there is a knowledge gap.” He said one common question centers around spectrum, particularly whether unlicensed spectrum in the U.S.’s shared 3.5GHz band (known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service or CBRS) will be reliable enough since priority in the band is afforded to licensed users.

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“One of the questions that I hear most often is how can I guarantee that I’m going to get good performance on my network such that I can guarantee the broadband data that I’m striving for when I’m not a licensed user and I’m basically a best-effort user? asked Picker. "And the answer to that is really that the Spectrum Access Systems have become incredibly advanced. So my answer is usually I think it will work quite well.”

Picker added another major hurdle for DIYers is understanding the differences between deployment types and equipment.

“Knowing whether or not to choose an outdoor access point that sits on top of a building or on a pole versus an indoor access point or several of them that can sit inside by the windows of different floors or different buildings can be a decision that needs to be made,” he explained. This also applies to the questions of whether or not to use indoor or outdoor small cells, how many and at what power levels.

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He said the good news at this stage is most equipment vendors will engage with potential customers, asking questions about their deployment type and goals to hopefully steer them in the right direction.

Bruce Albright, 5G Solutions Manager for construction engineering company Burns and McDonnell pointed to deployment costs and funding sources as two other common questions.

Given most of the companies Burns and McDonnell works with are large investor-owned utilities, he noted funding is generally supplied by shareholders and regulatory bodies. But this means the companies have to prove the desired private network is beneficial to their customer base.

Getting it done

In the case of schools and other public institutions, Picker said there are several different government funding programs in place to support deployments.

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Indeed, Jason Eyre, technology supervisor for the Murray City School District in Utah, said it funded its private network deployment through a combination of district funds and money provided by the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Fund.

To get the project started, Eyre said he called the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for help, “and they connected me with the appropriate contact” at the Federal Communications Commission. He eventually settled on CBRS as the most feasible option for spectrum and picked vendors by conducting research on standards body 3GPP’s website and watching YouTube videos. “I also learned of vendors from others who were looking in the education community,” he said.

In terms of words of wisdom for others seeking to walk a similar path, Eyre advised, “There are differences running a private LTE network than Wi-Fi. You need to consider if you want a fixed or subscription cost model. You need to understand CBRS and the ways that the signals move along the terrain where you would be providing service. Look to the OnGo Alliance to see vendors and opportunities. Decide whether you want a single vendor to run the solution or become the specialist and manage vendors in each part of the system” across the core, radio access network and devices.