“A million private networks in the US” – boom time beckons for industrial LTE and 5G
The rise of private industrial networking should be measured by the number of new networks, and network operators, and not by the number of cell sites, reckons Italy-based industrial networking specialist Athonet.
Speaking at a MulteFire-sponsored panel session, chaired by Enterprise IoT Insights (way back) in March at Hannover Messe 2019, Nanda Menon, the company’s director of corporate development, picked up on arguably the most striking statistic doing the rounds in the private LTE and 5G market.
Nokia, itself the most vocal (and partial) champion of private networking among the traditional telco vendor-set, has counted out its industrial targets for networking gear, and come up with about 14.6 million potential venues, including no fewer than 10.7 million in the loosely-defined “manufacturing and industrial” space.
It sounds like a lot, and is even more dramatic when compared with the number of cellular 2G, 3G, 4G, and 5G base stations deployed by network operators across the entire planet: seven million, less than half the potential market Nokia outlines for private networks.
Speaking in Hannover, Menon responded: “The revolution is not just that we are going from seven million traditional [cell] sites to 15 million [private cell] sites, or even more; it is that we are moving from four or five networks in a country to millions of networks in a country. That is a complelety different thing – that’s the paradigm shift.”
He added: “There will be a million private networks in the US in the next decade. It will be completely different to now. In terms of value creation, it’s not just the value from 15 million base stations, it’s not just a straight-line curve – imagine 15 million networks, as opposed to 400 networks, and the complexity and value creation that brings.”
Menon, in a forceful display at the MulteFire panel, said the traditional operator set have changed position on private networks, as their old businesses stagnate, and they understand the rich potential of the industrial space will only be achieved by meeting its networking requirements for control and isolation.
“A trillion dollars in revenues has pretty much flat-lined over the last five years. The industry has gone from a 1.0 version, serving humans with voice, to connecting them to the interent, and revenues have flat-lined. The next trillion dollars of revenues will come from connecting minds, machines, and things – and not just human minds, but artificial minds. This is the next big opportunity – the next trillion dollars.”
The change in the operator community has been forced by changes in the market, and notably the liberalisation of spectrum policy in key regions, with availability of 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum in the US, 1.9 GHz band-39 TD-LTE spectrum in Japan, and the release and promise of industrial test spectrum in the 3.7 GHz band in Germany.
Menon noted as well the role of MulteFire, the cellular offshoot technology developed by Nokia, Ericsson, and Qualcomm, among others, outside of 3GPP to standardise LTE for usage in the global 3.5 GHz and 5 GHz bands, and latterly the 2.4 GHz, 1.9 GHz, and sub 1 GHz bands – and the technology these companies had rallied around for the Hannover panel session. “For industry, the challenge has always been access to spectrum,” he said
“The difference is now – first with MulteFire pushing into 5 GHz, and now with CBRS launching in the US, availability of 1.9 GHz in Japan and 3,7 GHz in Germany – there is genuine demand out there. These technologies have raised awareness. And it is not just a few hundred people, or a few mines, or ports or boats. This is a massive market.
“With all the spectrum coming available – and with the advent of 5G and the need for for indoor coverage – operators realise this shift will happen. We have gone from a point two or three years ago, where we asked them to collaborate on spectrum, and they didn’t want to know, to a point where they’re coming to us for help to navigate this paradigm shift over the next three or four years.”
The MulteFire Alliance released its 1.1 companion specification in December, introducing cellular IoT-like (LTE-M and NB-IoT) capabilities to its original 1.0 version, as well as opening up the the 2.4 GHz, 1.9 GHz, and sub 1 GHz bands variously. The new features make it an multi-faceted standalone solution for private cellular, reckons the MulteFire Alliance.
Speaking to Enterprise IoT Insights, Asimakis Kokkos, technical specification group chair at MulteFire, and head of industry engagement strategic initiatives steering at Nokia, commented: “It is a standalone solution, meaning operators and neutral hosts don’t need to have a license for the spectrum. That has created a lot of business opportunities, and makes the technology a good candidate for enterprises – and for ports and airports, other parts of the supply chain.”
To date, availability of devices has been a sticking point for MulteFire. Analyst reports had originally predicted 170 million-odd MulteFire devices, already, and growth of 30 per cent a year – which would have taken its total deployments to close to 220 million by the end of 2019. Those forecasts are way off, and do not account for industry focus being taken so completely by 5G.
“We’ve had Nokia [base station] products since last year. But the forecasts were predicated on compatible smartphones. The chip vendors did not deliver on the day of launch was, and 5G was a little accelerated, in my opinion. And the market is still skewed away from enterprises, towards mobile phones,” said Kokkos.
Which is the challenge, in the end, for a private, neutral, and shared-host business model, struggling for scale in its early days. “The scale is one thing – because you need some smaller numbers in the beginning. But the other thing is we had 5G come earlier. These were the issues.”
Kokkos added: “If you’re making chipsets, you would prioritise mass demand for 5G smartphones over, perhaps, 100,000 [MulteFire] devices right now. That’s my personal view.”
But the new MulteFire 1.1 specification will be finalised for commercial deployment in the summer, and devices will start to come available, starting with dongles, equipped with both MulteFire-flavoured mobile broadband and low-power wide-area IoT capabilities.
Speaking at the MulteFire panel at Hannover Messe, Kokkos said: “It started a little slow, but we have devices coming later this year – dongles, mainly… which don’t have to integrated with a smartphone. These two [versions] will create a robust solution for a port or an enterprise, and include both the 5 GHz broadband and the other IoT type of applications in this respect.”
Kokkos fanned the flames, also, that private networking, powered by MulteFire, will explode the old telecoms market. “The mobile networks can serve certain needs. But the enterprise and industrial environment is looking to be innovative, and we will combine their innovation with the work of the telecoms sector. It is a huge opportunity – and the telecoms industry will go from selling base stations to collaborating around integrated solutions. It’s a holsitic approach, I would say.”
In Hannover, Menon said the CBRS market in the US will tip the balance for MulteFire, and that the interest from customers is as strong in MulteFire, as the breakthrough cellular technology, as it is in the spectrum coming available.
“All this spectrum opens the minds of traditonal manufacturers to this market. And with CBRS in the US, that is the largest economy in the world – it is big enough to bring in new entrants to make the devices. The question is about how to extend across the world. And that’s the beauty of MulteFire,” said Menon.
“Lots of our industrial customers say they want to try CBRS in the US, or 1.9 GHz in Japan, or 3.7 GHz in Germany. But what they are really asking for is MulteFire.”
Athonet is engaged with Italian multinational energy company Enel on private networking, he explained. “Enel is one of the largest utilities in the world, working in 34 countries across the world – it is not a telecoms company; it doesn’t have the time or inclination to negotiate 34 different spectrum deals in 34 countries,” he said.
“These large industrial corporations look at MulteFire as a silver bullet to solve their IoT requirements. That is what’s going to happen with these different dialects of private LTE – with the CBRS dialect and so on. MulteFire is the real thing. And all the spectrum that is coming available will create a need and desire for this common language that MulteFire provides.”
Check out the MulteFire panel session, hosted by Enterprise IoT Insights, from MWC 2019 below. The Hanover Messe 2019 panel session is unavilable as a recording. Look out for the editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights on Making Industry Smarter: Ports and Shipping, out at the end of June.