Not All Private Wireless Is Created Equal

Private wireless networks play a large and growing role in making Industry 4.0 a reality. Many advanced industrial use cases require highly reliable, low-latency wireless connectivity to ensure real-time data exchange between machines, IoT devices, and AI/ML analytics for energy automation. Based on 4.9G/LTE and 5G, these wireless networks use technologies that allow to meet the most stringent performance requirements.

Although standards-based, private wireless networks based on 4.9G/LTE or 5G are not all created equal. The standards ensure that any device based on radio technology can communicate with the network, but do not dictate the level of performance delivered. Compliance with the standard is just the beginning. How the components and the solution architecture are executed can lead to very disparate results.

High availability

In industrial OT environments, many of the use cases require up to five 9s (99.999%) uptime. For example, machine control communication is critical to reliable and predictable operation in assembly line environments. Even brief downtime can have a significant cost impact, especially when viewed on an annual basis. Unreliable network availability can also cause safety issues, especially in autonomous mobility applications such as an autonomous forklift, crane, straddle carrier, or 320-ton ore hauler.

Compared to business and mission-critical Industrial Operational Technology (OT) use cases, the demands of day-to-day enterprise IT use cases place more modest demands on network availability. Measured in percentage terms, it is generally considered sufficient that enterprise networks such as Wi-Fi provide 99% to 99.95% availability, which is why OT use cases require the deployment of various wireless connectivity technologies. Home wireless networks can easily achieve 99.99% availability and even exceed it if needed.

Typical features of industrial-grade private wireless network solutions for OT applications include multiple levels of redundancy. But for more stringent performance levels, suppliers can enhance solution capabilities and customer network design by using multiple radio frequency bands to create a multi-layer radio link, spatial separation of redundant small cells, and a third level of redundancy. for example a public network core.

Looking ahead, private wireless networks with 5G SA will be able to evolve to six and seven 9s availability, which may be required to support future critical machine communication use cases.

Experience is essential

Experience is often the missing ingredient to achieve very high availability. Many private wireless solution providers have little or no experience in delivering end-to-end solutions for these critical enterprise networks. Specialized wireless networks with high availability have been around for decades, such as B. wireless GSM-R networks used by the railway industry or for public safety. The experience gained in maintaining these networks favors a much smaller group of network providers that have proven experience in delivering these types of mission-critical services.

Designing private wireless networks for high availability means integrating the network into the industrial applications that rely on it. This is especially important when using edge clouds for edge computing applications – often required to achieve high reliability and low latency. The network equipment supplier must have extensive experience with the integration of specific elements and software from industry partners. This is a system integration work that requires the vendor to have solution service capabilities, including pre-integrated and tested solutions that can handle the key use cases of each segment with a range of preferred partner benefits.

Ultra Reliability

Although related, the problem of performance reliability (also known as predictability or determinism) is distinct from availability. Beyond the problem of network availability, reliability addresses the problem of consistent service performance. Radio design plays an important role in delivering reliable private wireless networks, but that’s not all.

Unfortunately, many personal wireless vendors use femtocell (or inexpensive small cell) all-in-one chipsets for their radios, which are available from chipset vendors. These vendors provide not only the reference design but also the base software stack. This means that virtually any company, not even a radio expert, can work with a contract manufacturer to quickly build a range of personal wireless radios based on these chipsets and basic software.

The use case for femtocells cannot be generalized to many Industry 4.0 applications. Not only were they designed for email and web browsing in homes with very few users, but it was always assumed that macro cellular coverage could fill up if the femto-cell in the home went down. Mobile operators’ macro cell uses a layered approach covering multiple frequency bands including legacy standards such as 2G, GPRS and 3G, so there are multiple redundancies at the macro level, so using femtocells in such networks is fine and serves the purpose.

Private wireless networks don’t have this wide range of frequency band options and the public network to fall back on. In addition, the radios are often used in very demanding radio environments such as underground mines and factories and warehouses with high ceilings. And the number of potential IoT sensors and other devices is much larger.

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