Workplace safety in IIoT takes on new meaning for CBRS: Special Report

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, automation existed as a use case for CBRS and now it’s likely to grow as employers seek to put more distance between workers on factory floors. It’s one of the use cases that FierceWireless will be exploring on Thursday, May 21, during its free virtual panel: “Using CBRS for the Industrial IoT.”

“I think we’re going to see increased velocity of deployments in that area and interest because of COVID and the need to ensure worker safety,” said Federated Wireless CTO Kurt Schaubach. Automation was already starting to happen in the private LTE space, “but I think even greater levels of automation will happen near term as companies continue to think about how to put employees in work spaces safely.”  

Federated Wireless, one of five Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrators certified by the FCC, is seeing a lot of CBRS activity among mobile network operators that are using the unlicensed portion of the spectrum to densify and augment their existing networks. It’s also seeing a lot of action by wireless internet service providers (WISPs) that are deploying CBRS in some of the more rural and remote areas where LTE gives them more capabilities in terms of bandwidth and performance.  

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However, in terms of future growth, “the opportunity is clearly in enterprise,” Schaubach said. “The enterprise market is potentially enormous and I think could substantially eclipse what we do in the service provider market,” even as cable companies begin to deploy CBRS. “There’s a much bigger addressable market in enterprise. We’re hearing about lots of demand from enterprises wanting to control their wireless future and their wireless destiny.”  

Removing complexities

While CBRS is appealing to them, one of the key things around adoption is the current complexity of deploying a private wireless network. An IT manager would need to learn a substantial amount of wireless telecom in order to pull it off. That’s where Federated Wireless is stepping in with its Connectivity-as-a-Service to simplify the process for enterprises and encourage adoption.

That offering, launched in February, is a turn-key end-to-end solution, where Federated can advise an enterprise on which equipment to use and do the design, implementation and operation on behalf of the enterprise. Quite literally, all the customer has to do is go into a cloud marketplace, like AWS or Microsoft Azure, complete a click-through procurement process and they can get a managed service for a monthly fee.

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CommScope, which along with Federated Wireless is a certified SAS administrator, also sells infrastructure for CBRS, working with reseller partners that deliver the implementation and design. “It seems very clear that in the CBRS market, customers want someone to provide the soup-to-nuts solution,” said Steve Wimsatt, senior director of Strategic Alliances at CommScope. Demand, he said, is “all over the place.”

In the IIoT space, CommScope last year demonstrated with Attabotics a 3D robotic supply chain automation system that enabled carts to move pallets at high speeds around a warehouse floor. That kind of situation would not be possible with Wi-Fi, he said.

That said, he views CBRS as different than Wi-Fi, which is getting better with Wi-Fi 6. If you want to get a lot of people connected to the internet and do so as cheaply as possible, Wi-Fi is the answer. “If Wi-Fi is working and you’re happy with it, you’re done. Wi-Fi is cheaper. It’s ubiquitous,” he said.

But as use cases are going mobile, in some cases, Wi-Fi is being asked to do things it cannot do. CBRS offers a much higher quality connection and is better designed for the mission-critical applications and use cases. It’s predictable, offers higher quality of service and it's more reliable because it uses dedicated spectrum, he said. “You get a really, really solid connection,” he added. “Because CBRS uses LTE, it’s always secure… On Wi-Fi, you can make it secure, but you’ve got to work on it.”

LTE also offers mobility, coverage and range. Indoors, a single CBRS access point provides about four times the coverage of a high-end Wi-Fi access point. Outdoors, CBRS in a line of sight scenario can go five or six times farther than Wi-Fi, he said. “That opens the door to a lot of new use cases.”

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Of course, industries are hearing about 5G, which offers ultra reliable low latency (URLL) as one of its features. But in talking with enterprises about their use cases, a lot of them can get what they need today from 4G LTE using dedicated CBRS spectrum that offers a lot of capacity and an array of devices that are already on the market, according to Wimsatt.

“We as an industry have to do a better job of promoting CBRS and where it can be useful,” he said. “I’m sure there are use cases we can’t support that need 5G, but I think there’s going to be a lot more use cases that can in fact be served really well just with CBRS LTE.”

Proving the model

A steady growth in demand in IIoT has been occurring since Nokia started doing private wireless back in 2015, according to Stephane Daeuble, head of Marketing for Enterprise Solutions at Nokia. The vendor sees interest from all sectors that it covers: oil and gas, mining, utilities, railway, airports, ports, manufacturing and more. Typically, Nokia sells either direct or through partner operators.

One of the big challenges around the world always has been finding spectrum. Historically, it was a matter of talking with an operator to get access to their spectrum; in other cases, it involved talking to the regulator and asking them for access to new spectrum. “It was always a very cumbersome project in that sense,” Daeuble said.

The FCC’s CBRS initiative in the U.S. makes it significantly easier for a number of industries. There was a time when a lot of countries were watching how CBRS was unfolding in the U.S.; it’s a unique sharing paradigm that enables the FCC to protect incumbent federal users while freeing up spectrum for commercial users on both an unlicensed and licensed basis. “We’re now at a stage where we’ve proven it works,” Daeuble said.