“There’s nothing you can’t do with LTE” – talking ports and private networks with Druid Software
The rise of private cellular networks has been a key narrative recently in the story of industrial transformation, propelled by the emergence of advanced data analytics (AI), distributed sensing and processing infrastructure (IoT), and super-fast connectivity (5G). Irish firm Druid Software has helped to plot its course, since before the concept of ‘private cellular’, seemed so familiar.
It has deployed private LTE networks for clients in a number of sectors, all of which require highly controlled and ringfenced cellular operations. The ports-and-shipping industry has been a particular focus, and the Port of Rotterdam, in the Netherlands, has been its headline deployment.
Tadhg Kenny, the company’s senior vice president of business development, was interviewed for a recent editorial report from Enterprise IoT Insights on the state of digital change in the ports industry, with close consideration for the role of private and publuc cellular networks.
The report is available to download here. But Kenny’s full commentary should go on record, on account of his firm’s experience of his insight, and the original interview is laid out below.
Some context, first. Until the middle of last decade, Rotterdam was the largest port in the world. It has since slipped to 11th, edged out by a rush of six Chinese ports, as well as Singapore, Busan, Hong Kong, and Dubai. Even so, it remains Europe’s preeminent maritime trading hub, and a focal point for the region’s Industry 4.0 assault.
Over 12 million containers are shipped each year across Druid Software’s cellular IoT solution in Rotterdam’s container terminals. The company is engaged with Koning & Hartman on private LTE projects in a number of harbours, including Rotterdam. The pair have just extended their cooperation across enterprise telecoms, industrial IoT and healthcare solutions. Their work on private networks has typically involved 4G small cells from US based Airspan.
Druid Software’s Raemis platform, a virtual ePC for management of private networks, takes cellular radios from any vendor and unifies them into a high-quality mobile network that can be managed easily by IT technicians – in much the same way as they manage their existing IT systems. It is the beating heart of the automation control plane in Rotterdam.
As an aside, Kenny says Druid Software joined a delegation to the Port of Marseille some months back to “see” how to replicate its Rotterdam automation use case on the Mediterranean. It has also monitored the recent trials of 5G slicing in the Port of Hamburg, involving Deutsche Telekom and Nokia. Kenny calls the exercise a “small scale public LTE solution” of environmental sensors and traffic light controls using 700 MHz spectrum
“I guess the use cases are 5G-like, but 5G is really being used as a marketing term so far here,” he says. The point is to engage with the broader ports community. Druid Software is working with logistics groups, as a “key driver for digital transformation in these environments”, says Kenny. “We’ve begun targeting the key transport companies there to show them whats possible.”
The firm wants to grow business in the US. It is targeting hospitals and healthcare, industrial campuses, maritime and ports, and industrial IoT setups. It has a deal with Corning to provide a one-stop-shop for US enterprises planning to deploy private LTE using CBRS. Their package includes service and support, and relieves enterprises from the burden of integrating the various network components, they said.
As well, local US operator Geoverse, based in Bellevue, in Washington State, has signed to use Druid’s Raemis software to provide a dual-purpose neutral host solution, comprising a private LTE network for corporate-level applications and in-building coverage and capacity for mobile operators.
But back to ports, back to Rotterdam, and back to Kenny – in full.
What is Druid Software providing to ports and other industrial enterprises in the way of private networks?
“We are providing private LTE radio access and core networks for port automation. We have deployed in Rotterdam using the Dutch 5G spectrum in 3.7 GHz (B43) band. We have scaled up from the initial pilot programme some years ago to over 500 connected and autonomous vehicles (CAVs) and 19 eNodeBs to date.”
How does Druid Software’s private network setup work – in terms of spectrum, management, radios, devices, software?
“Our Raemis ‘industrial campus automation’ solution delivers high quality service by distributing core network elements to the campus site, lowering latency to a minimum, and providing resilience against [public] network failure – as a network operating independently of operators’ core networks.
“Raemis uses LTE cellular radio technology and either licensed or unlicensed cellular spectrum, depending on the use case. In Rotterdam it is using the licensed B43 band.
“Wi-Fi is also used for these kinds of use cases, but it has major limitations in terms of outdoor and wide-area coverage, as well as quality of service – on the grounds it is subject to interference. These drawbacks make it unsuitable for industrial campus automation, where failures and unreliability convert directly into loss of revenue.”
What scope is there for 5G in your system? What applications will 5G support in ports, which aren’t supported already with LTE and Wi-Fi?
“We are delivering 5G (NSA) solutions in the second half of 2019 as some vendors have made 5G radio equipment available. But they are scarce, nevertheless. We haven’t come across any applications so far that require 1 Gbps of throughput or 1ms of latency – which are the benchmarks for 5G. There are no applications we’ve encountered that can’t be supported using LTE – a lot of them are running on Wi-Fi, moving to LTE for better quality of service.
“Which is fine because the 5G ecosystem remains very immature. It will be 2021-2023, we estimate, before 5G is a really serious contender to replace the LTE ecosystem that already exists for industrial IoT. A key delivery in the interim will be NB-IoT. But transitional IoT technologies like LoRaWAN and Sigfox still have plenty of road left while we wait for the NB-IoT eco system to mature for massive machine-type communications (mMTC).
“From the perspective of the end customer, all the 5G marketing that is going on is premature and unhelpful in a lot of cases – as key LTE milestones like LTE-M and NB IoT, on the way to a solid 5G story, have yet to be achieved.”
What do ports want in terms of public / private / shared networking? Will private slices of public networks ever suffice?
“Ports and port authorities are not really that bothered where the spectrum comes from. They will often try public networks and Wi-Fi first in proofs-of-concept, as they are the most visible technologies for them. They know they need highly reliable, high quality services or it will cost time and money, and be difficult to deliver real-time applications.
“We have found that port enterprises need dedicated 24/7/365 coverage solutions they can easily manage, scale, and monitor. They want open platforms that integrate with the latest digital applications. Port automation is a key use case here, as are mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT), man-down, and lone-worker applications.
“Available licensed/shared spectrum is key to innovation and delivering the kinds of dedicated and reliable wireless networks required to deliver these services. Mobile network operators move too slowly. They are not agile enough to integrate to the level these enterprises need. They are geared for the consumer market.
“Network slicing does not address all the critical aspects for port operations either. Ultimately, you are still on a public network, so when the public network goes down, so does your service – you might have a dedicated slice of the spectrum, but it won’t keep you running in a business critical environment.
“We have also seen, in Rotterdam, that the public network core can’t deliver the kind of latency (about 20ms) required for these use cases. There has to be an edge core to keep the latency low, and provide redundancy. An easy-to-use enterprise dashboard is also essential to provide full monitoring and control.”
How is the regulatory position on spectrum changing, and making it solutions like yours increasingly viable?
“With the push to connect more ‘things’, and to transform industry, regulators everywhere are faced with questions about how best to use spectrum for innovation. The term ‘private networks’ is common, now. It was not always the case.
“But Druid has been deploying private networks since 2003. When regulators in Europe liberalised Band 3 (1800 MHz), it gave us the opportunity to deploy dedicated networks through network providers, system integrators, and resellers for business-critical or mission-critical uses.
“The Dutch market was particularly successful, and followed with the release of Band 43 (3700 MHz), which enabled further innovation – including with one of the most eye-catching IoT port projects anywhere in the world with our solution in Rotterdam. In recent years we have begun deploying private networks in France and Germany in the spectrum that has been made available in 2.6 GHz, 3.5 GHz and 3.7 GHz.
“We have always had customers in the US going back to our in-flight cellular days in 2003. With the FCC making 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum available for customer deployments in the second half of 2019, it has opened up huge opportunities for us.
“We have achieved a lot with limited spectrum in Europe, dealing with different countries, languages, cultures and regulators. The US provides plenty of bandwidth in comparison, with 50 states, one regulator, and one language. The US will help activities in Europe, in turn, by making more devices available.
“Ofcom’s recent decision in the UK around 2.3 GHz and 3.8-4.2 GHz will breath new life into our business there. The 2.3 GHz band is the key one, and has lots of device support, which allows for the most innovation for enterprises.”
What next? How will your service evolve, and how will port operations transform?
“Enterprises increasingly want ‘as-a-service’ offerings. One partner said recently that 90 per cent of their enquiries are for op-ex models now. This fits nicely with the larger US landscape, where tier-one and two providers are setting up to provide end-to-end solutions in CBRS spectrum.
“Ports are only starting down the road with digital transformation, converting to more automated processes. LTE, backed by a mature ecosystem, will enable this transition in the next few years – until 5G comes of age, and the market is able to deliver on enterprise needs.
“As above, the emerging critical applications are mission-critical push-to-talk (MCPTT) as the migration from Tetra continues, and man-down and lone-worker applications to enhance health and safety – often combined with MCPTT.
“Smart Smart maintenance will evolve too. It has started, already, with body-worn and fixed-point devices delivering high-definition video and audio from to enable remote support in real time. Virtual and augmented reality applications will be layered into this, to also assist local engineers in their tasks.
“Drones will be added to LTE networks to enable quick checks for maintenance in industrial areas that are hard to reach or potentially unsafe, saving time and money. Really, the emergence of smart factory applications will bring port automation indoors, and opens up really interesting possibilities for private LTE.”