What You Need to Know About Private LTE Networking and Enterprise IoT
Traditional Wi-Fi connectivity has been the go-to set-up for most enterprise IoT applications and devices for years, However, although Wi-Fi is the familiar route to take, it also poses many challenges when it comes to evolving and scaling enterprise IoT solutions.
With more companies looking towards new and more reliable IoT applications and solutions, the challenges posed by Wi-Fi connectivity and the solutions provided by private LTE networks should be discussed to give enterprises the bigger picture of their IoT deployment journey.
What is a private LTE network and why is it better for enterprise IoT?
Private LTE is a cellular network that uses smaller cell sites and network servers to support a specific organization’s needs for data connectivity. It uses a separate network to the public 4G and 5G cellular carrier networks that often have higher interference, and are usually too congested for enterprise IoT use.
In other words, a private LTE network means having your own dedicated cellular network – separate from those of third-party cellular operators – which provides data connection to your machines, IoT devices and voice services.
Any enterprise can choose to run their private LTE network on either licensed or unlicensed spectrum. A licensed spectrum means a business will be using spectrum that is dedicated to, and designated for certain users. It may also require a licence to use depending on the deployment location. Unlicensed spectrum is a designated range which anyone can build on or use for connection, and does not require a license or fee to use.
Depending on an organization’s overall needs, budget and connectivity requirements, a private LTE network can offer a range of solutions to choose from. For instance you might use the private LTE network for IoT applications and machines only, or you could create an all-in-one connectivity solution which covers IoT applications, machinery, moving vehicles, sites and office and voice services.
Employing a private LTE solution means:
- Less or no dependence on third-party cellular providers
- Increased network security with focus on keeping your company data on-site
- Higher bandwidth for more connected devices and applications
- Low interference and congestion
- Better local coverage for on-site requirements (no blind spots).
A private LTE deployment may also represent a cheaper alternative to mobile and data connectivity services provided by a cellular carrier – especially for industries that require multiple sites and a large quantity of connected devices and machinery.
Why is traditional Wi-Fi not a long term solution for enterprise IoT users?
Wi-Fi has dominated the connectivity technology scene for quite some time, as it has been made readily available and is predominantly used with IoT solutions on-site and over short distances.
With Wi-Fi having the highest percentage of use among enterprise IoT applications, there are obviously common problems associated with this connectivity technology which are widely known among its users.
Here are the most common challenges enterprise IoT solutions face with WiFi connectivity:
Devices and applications that need to be connected outdoors
To cut down on cellular carrier cost and increase IoT functionality, many IoT applications and devices rely on Wi-Fi connectivity even when these devices are placed outdoors.
The challenge posed by this is the range of WiFi connectivity, and its reliability to keep the IoT device connected amidst other external elements. So, to combat Wi-Fi connectivity and reliability issues, enterprises are spending more on creating connection points to keep external devices running.
Devices that need to be attached to moving vehicles
The commercial, industrial and logistics industries have long sought for ways to safely and accurately track and control their business-critical IoT devices and applications. With most companies requiring security and increased transparency, it is more likely that logistics enterprises would employ IoT devices and applications in their operations. However, it can also be harder for those companies to gather or access or real-time information when needed – especially when moving vehicles are out of range.
The challenge posed here is the inability of WiFi to support reliable and consistent connectivity for moving vehicles, both locally and across the globe.
Applications that need constant connection indoors and outdoors
Although in many cases the obvious choice is Wi-Fi deployment for most indoor IoT devices, traditional Wi-Fi is still prone to interference and congestion that can slow down or disconnect devices.
The challenge here is ensuring a reliable and secure Wi-Fi signal for the devices and applications connected.
Connectivity range blind spots
Wi-Fi connectivity blind spots are a very common challenge, and the number of blind spots only increases as the area the Wi-Fi needs to cover gets larger.
The challenge here is the difficulty of covering large areas, and the high costs of creating access points or nodes to be able to cover large sites. If you have multiple large sites with hundreds of IoT devices, machinery, and other applications to connect then the whole process can be time consuming and quite expensive.
Connectivity interference problems
Any other device that’s both within your Wi-Fi and IoT devices’ range, and utilising the same spectrum of frequencies can cause interference. Since most IoT devices and Wi-Fi connectivity are often used in densely-occupied environments, this means that there are more and more consumer devices that can cause problems between your IoT device and its Wi-Fi connection.
Interference can often cause weakened connection performance. This might present itself as a slow connection, or the device losing connection entirely with the Wi-Fi signal. This poses a challenge for business-critical applications and real-time data collection on busy Wi-Fi connections.
It’s no secret that the traditional Wi-Fi connection has been a target for hacking for years. And as the years and technology have progressed, so have the tactics and techniques used by hackers.
It is clear that Wi-Fi is the first choice for on site IoT solutions, but its limitations are made more apparent as IoT use becomes business-critical.
The use of Wi-Fi in emerging technologies can hinder the growth of IoT solutions, and it is obvious that existing technology options will not be sufficient as enterprises move forward. With more and more IoT applications being used within business critical processes, private LTE networking is proving to be the more forward-thinking solution for enterprise IoT.
Private LTE network as a more reliable Wi-Fi Alternative
The deployment of private LTE or private mobile networks is becoming more commonplace, and its global growth is projected to be worth around €60-70bn by 2025. This means that industries and end-users perceive LTE technology as flexible, mature, and increasingly cost effective..
Private LTE is geared for the challenges of IoT, as companies look for ways to support new IoT solutions and applications, and reliably process higher volumes of data with lower latency and interference.
Private LTE also offers enterprises access to a more secure, adaptable, and scalable network for existing IoT Solutions.
For enterprises needing coverage for connected devices over large areas, for a multitude of devices and applications, connectivity for moving vehicles, and the flexibility to cover other services (such as voice) private LTE networks are proving to be a better choice and a sound investment.
What industries or settings is Private LTE best used for?
Private LTE has been in the market for years and this means that it has been used to solve IoT and connectivity challenges across a range of projects and industries, including micro projects and small business applications.
Here are just some of the industries and projects where private LTE can be used to ensure connectivity for enterprise IoT:
- Airports & Ports
- Transport Venues & Hubs
- Hospitals & Laboratories
- University CAmpuses
- Shopping Malls & Large Retail Venues
- Industrial and Manufacturing
- Oil & Gas
- Military bases
- On-Shore & Off Shore Power Generation
- Wood Utilities
Looking at this list detailing where private LTE can be used, you will notice that a number of them can quite easily be covered by WiFi connectivity even on a large scale.
Sites like airports, ports, warehouses, shopping malls, hospitals, and laboratories can be fitted with multiple access points to cover these with just Wi-Fi. However, coverage becomes difficult with WiFi when enterprises need to cover large sites. In these cases, they can end up with over a hundred access points to connect – and coordinating all those access points together into a cohesive solution also comes with its own difficulties.
The advantage of private LTE is that only one tenth of those access points are needed in large areas, making it more efficient. Ensuring reliable connectivity and low interference where business critical IoT takes place – such as hospitals and laboratories – can be achieved with fewer access points across the site.
Having a private LTE network in place of Wi-Fi also caters for moving objects and other possibilities, with full coverage and no blind spots in connectivity. This then covers scenarios where first responders are needed to move across locations while staying connected – since they can achieve this through a private LTE network.
Private LTE in Mining, Quarries, and Oil & Gas
Work sites within the mining, quarries and oil & gas industries are being pushed into digitalization by the introduction of newer technologies.
Although many still rely on old practices, these industries have embraced newer technologies in automation which enhance processes and reduce risk to workers.
The gap that private LTE bridges for these industries is the ability to stay connected to the outside world and produce real-time data through highly secure and multi-functional networks.
Some sites within the mining and oil & gas industries rely heavily on automation, and connection to a larger network to monitor key processes. With the types of devices, applications and users within these industries and a mixture of high and low bandwidth applications, along with a need for business-critical reliability, the use of private LTE is essential to driving enterprise IoT solutions forward.
Private LTE in Airports, Ports, and Transport Hubs
Reliable “Smart” transport hubs, ports, and airports have been a goal for the sector for years. Relying heavily on Wi-Fi connectivity or over-priced cellular network connections, large areas with moving vehicles and elements have been in need of solutions to resolve long-standing connectivity and security issues.
Private LTE can provide solutions to connectivity issues and coverage for moving elements within and outside building structures for airports, ports, and hubs. Leveraging private LTE’s capacity to support high traffic, more enterprise IoT applications can be used and connected to a secure network to transfer all critical information increasing transparency and efficiency across the whole site.
Industrial, Manufacturing and Warehousing
This is probably the sector in which M2M and IoT solutions are most prevalent, so it stands to reason that Private LTE would also find a home here – and indeed private LTE is extremely well suited to the demands of the sector.
You could have a production line spanning multiple buildings and incorporating automated machinery – all of it trying to talk with various machines and devices in a busy network space that’s spread over a wide physical area. We’ve already seen that situations like this are tough for Wi-Fi to deal with successfully – but with the reduced outside ‘noise’ of data traffic unrelated to the production line and increased stability over wide areas, it’s a scenario in which private LTE could really come into its own.
Similarly with warehousing – these are frequently big buildings so the network can again be spread over a wide area. Private LTE is therefore the prudent choice to ensure that important data concerning stock levels, staff location, and other critical information gets to the devices it needs to reach without fail.
Medical, Education and Retail
These sectors are often based in large multi-storey, multi-room buildings. That alone can present problems for WiFi, as there may simply be too many walls, floors, doors and other surfaces for the signal to reach everywhere it’s needed. However, each one also presents unique challenges that can be better overcome with private LTE.
In medical applications, a private LTE solution allows for a highly secure way of sending data traffic to connected devices without affecting medical equipment and ensuring that patient data is not put at risk with unsecure connectivity. A private LTE network also provides moving items with full connectivity coverage within the site making it easier to move hospital beds and acquiring real-time data on key medical equipment.
In retail, you may find a standard WiFi network swamped with traffic from shoppers’ phones, and choose to keep data destined for security, janitorial or other staff on a separate network to ensure those vital messages get through.
And finally, in the education sector, private LTE can be a godsend, as many campuses are made up of buildings of different shapes and sizes, with a signal often needing to go outside then back in again. This can be a challenge for Wi-Fi, but a private LTE network can cope much better with the demands of providing reliable connectivity in such a scenario.
How important can private LTE be for an enterprise?
When you take into account the increasing importance of connected devices within all sorts of businesses, and really consider the number of ways in which Wi-Fi can fail – from data security, to interference, and the effects that interference as well as other outside factors can impact signal strength and resilience – it becomes clear that private LTE can help almost any business – from a fast food truck with a mobile card reader, to a large manufacturing plant with a host of automated machinery.
The type, sector and location of your enterprise will all affect just how important private LTE tech is for you, but whether it’s a convenient helping hand, or vital infrastructure without which you couldn’t do business, Pod Group is ready to help you devise the right approach, and implement it expertly.