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AI/Automation

Private wireless networks in the US start going public

A wide range of companies in the global wireless industry have been talking up the potential of the private wireless networking market for years. Indeed, Nokia has speculated that the number of basestations for private wireless networks could eventually double the number dedicated to standard, public mobile networks.

However, most discussions on the topic to date have been filled with vague hopes and unspecified deployments. After all, the space is still in its infancy, real-world commercial deployments are sparse and many customers want to keep their private wireless networks private for reasons of security or competitive advantage.

But all of that is slowly starting to change.

"This is a unique opportunity to apply the latest 5G technologies to a traditional but mission critical support area for our warfighters," explained John Larson of the Naval Information Warfare Center Atlantic in a release from the US Department of Defense (DoD). Larson is overseeing the construction of a private 5G network at the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, that is using technology from all US-based companies, including Federated Wireless, Cisco, JMA Wireless, Vectrus Systems, Perspecta Labs, GE Research, KPMG and Scientific Research Corp.

Larson said the $90 million prototype smart warehouse supports 1.5 Gbit/s downloads and latency of 15 milliseconds using 380MHz of spectrum across the midband and millimeter wave bands.

"A tremendous amount of planning, preparation and continuous execution is applied to ensure the necessary material is pre-positioned around the world and available at a moment's notice to support our Marines," Larson said of the 5G smart warehouse. "5G technologies deliver the fidelity, speed and security needed to accomplish this mission."

But the Defense Department isn't alone in touting its private wireless networking progress.

"We seek to gain new efficiencies by using wireless, IoT and the available analytics to enable multiple smart port applications by leveraging this reliable high-speed mobile data and communications platform," said Bill Aboudi, president of the Oakland Maritime Support Services (OMSS) at the Port of Oakland, in a release.

OMSS is currently revamping a 15-acre facility at the former Oakland Army Base to make it a state-of-the-art trucking services facility. Part of that effort involves building a private wireless LTE network in the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band with vendor Geoverse. OMSS hopes the network will help it better manage its increasing container traffic. Importantly, OMSS users on its private network will also be able to roam onto public LTE networks via Geoverse's Evolved Packet Core.

Signs of market maturation

The announcements by the OMSS and the DoD help shed light on the maturation of the private wireless networking space. Indeed, the situation is such that Ericsson – one of the world's largest vendors of mobile networking equipment – recently overhauled its strategy in the sector in order to sell equipment directly to enterprises rather than to enterprises through service providers. The company said it would target the offering at industries such as manufacturing, mining, utilities, ports and airports.

The deployments by the OMSS and the DoD join other recent private wireless network deployments in the US by the Port of Seattle, San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E) and the University of Connecticut, among others. But the sector is also taking off globally as countries like France and Germany set aside spectrum specifically for private wireless networks. As a result, companies like Airbus, Siemens, BMW and others are building private wireless networks in factories across the globe.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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