Nokia expands private wireless platform

Toyota Production Engineering is one of Nokia's private wireless customers. (Toyota Production Engineering)

With more than 180 private wireless customers (20% of whom are now using 5G), Nokia has a lot of experience talking to enterprises about what they need from private networks. That experience informs the latest iteration of the vendor's Digital Automation Cloud private wireless networking platform. 

Nokia is adding applications for which it sees demand in the market, including asset tracking, video analytics, VoIP and team communications. "Communication between teams is continually a requirement," said Stephane Daeuble, Nokia's head of marketing for enterprise solutions. The platform offers secure one-to-one and one-to-many campus-wide communication, using both voice and video. Nokia expects it to be most appropriate for asset-intensive locations like ports, mines and factories.

Daeuble said video analytics is another application that is in demand across a wide range of industries. He said private networks support video analytics for use cases including site surveillance, identification of objects and people, vehicle inspection, sensor fusion and optical guided work instructions.

Private wireless customers can easily add new applications from Nokia's catalog, Daeuble said, describing the software as "click and deploy." For now, customers cannot integrate their own applications with the Digital Automation Cloud. They can, however, integrate private wireless and edge computing with existing machines and infrastructure. PROFINET and EtherCAT are among the common machine communication protocols supported by the platform's industrial connectors.

The platform also supports Microsoft Azure IoT edge modules such as Modbus, building on a partnership that Nokia and Microsoft announced late last year. The companies plan to combine Microsoft's IoT and AI solutions with Nokia's private wireless networks. Microsoft has been amassing its own wireless core network expertise through its recent acquisitions of Affirmed and Metaswitch. Nokia said it cannot currently comment on how those assets might impact its partnership with Microsoft. 

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Nokia said it deploys its private wireless solution through an on-premise edge-cloud server, which hosts the core network and supports a web interface. Daeuble said a remote data center typically "injects intelligence" into the network, but otherwise everything is contained in the on-site "bubble."

On-premise edge

The on-premise edge is the heart of Nokia's private wireless solution, according to Tuuli Ahava, director of the company's application program for private wireless. She said the on-premise edge supports connectivity as well as applications with cloud-native software. "The network scales down while the applications are going the other way," she explained.

Companies are increasingly interested in running applications on private wireless networks for a variety of reasons. One is security, which is much greater when data does not leave the on-site network. Another is low latency, which is critical for factory automation and often cannot be guaranteed by public cellular networks or Wi-Fi. But very few companies have the in-house expertise to operate a cellular network.

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“Packaged solutions such as Nokia’s DAC platform will be key to unlocking the private network opportunity in the future," said Caroline Chappell, research director for cloud and platform services at Analysys Mason. "Enterprises require simple, easy-to-use and cost-effective private network solutions that integrate connectivity, cloud and vertical-specific applications. Increasingly, there is demand for solutions that resolve industry-specific challenges such as protocol translation. Platforms that support the pre-integration of multiple components address important concerns for enterprises looking to deploy a private network.”

In addition to its Digital Automation Cloud, Nokia offers a Modular Private Wireless solution which gives customers a more customizable, end-to-end network. Earlier this year, the vendor announced 5G standalone for both these solutions.