Did you know you can use LTE mobile networking to create private networks?
Private networks offer businesses superior reliability, scalability, and security. Cellular networking technology out-competes, other local and wide area networking technologies. The low latency and high cellular bandwidth make it ideal for mission-critical IoT and Industrie 4.0 applications.
If you’re considering building a private network for your organization, learning more about LTE and other cellular networking technologies can help you successfully plan and deploy a private LTE network.
This article explains how to build your private network, including the key considerations and scope of what you can achieve with cellular networking technology in 2022.
What is a private LTE network?
Private LTE networks are wireless networks that are privately owned and operated using portions of the licensed radio spectrum. Private LTE networks use Long Term Evolution (LTE), a cellular networking standard developed by the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP).
These private, or non-public mobile networks:
- contain cellular networking infrastructure and devices to run a standalone cellular network, or
- acquire secure private access to allocated frequency bands of a public cellular network from a mobile operator. This is a virtual private network.
In both cases, only assigned devices can exchange data over the network.
Private LTE networks use the licensed radio spectrum
Because private LTE networks operate on the licensed radio spectrum, their size and use are strictly regulated and limited to the specific locations specified by the network owner. Private network owners pay mobile network operators to access the cellular portions of the radio spectrum. The mobile network operators provide bandwidth for a private LTE network out of their own licensed allocation.
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Public end-user devices cannot use a private network
Public cellular devices cannot use a private cellular network as they are not configured for its secured frequency bands and channels. However, network owners can configure end-user devices to use both the private network and public mobile coverage if devices go out of range of the private network.
What is LTE?
Long Term Evolution is an advanced and highly adaptive cellular networking technology that was developed by the Third Generation Partnership Project 3GPP and was first released in 2004. LTE is based on the Universal Mobile Telecommunication System (UMTS) used in third-generation (3G) cellular networking. However, it is significantly more advanced than 3G and is closer in performance to fourth-generation technology (4G).
The features of LTE include
- Extensive coverage: LTE has full mobility with signal coverage of over 100 km in unobstructed conditions.
- Full duplex communications: depending on the frequency band available, LTE uses frequency-division duplexing (FDD) or time-division duplexing (TDD) for efficient data transfer in high-throughput applications.
- Ample bandwidth: with channel sizes of up to 20 MHz.
- High uplink and downlink speeds: LTE encodes data on its signal using fast modulation techniques like Orthogonal Frequency Division Multiple Access (OFDM). This enables LTE to achieve uplink speeds of up to 50 Mbps and downlink speeds of over 100 Mbps.
- Low latency: LTE has a latency of less than 10 ns.
- MIMO and antenna diversity: Multiple Input Multiple Output and other antenna diversity schemes are used to make LTE connectivity more robust and less error-prone.
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LTE private networks use a 3G back up
Third-generation (3G) cellular technology is primarily used as a backup for failed 4G/LTE connectivity. 3G is a combination of cellular networking technologies that include EDGE and UMTS to support voice, text, MMS, and mobile internet connectivity for a private network. 3G can transfer data from IoT devices to the Cloud but lacks the throughput and speed of 4G/LTE.
The architecture of a private LTE network?
At a minimum, an operational private network has a Radio Access Network (RAN) and any application-related mobile infrastructure. Here are the main network architecture types that you can use to build your private LTE network:
Private wide area network (WAN)
LTE can support the wide area network (WAN) coverage that is suitable for large spaces like college campuses, airports, or depots. A private WAN makes coverage a priority, with the data generated or exchanged within the network processed locally to keep latency low. Private LTE WAN requires the following components:
- A Radio Access Network (RAN) to provide the radio-based connectivity that enables devices to use the network.
- An Evolved Packet Core that routes the voice and data exchanged on the network to the wired backhaul for the network.
- A Home Subscriber Service or cloud-based data processing and management.
Industrial private LTE network
The industrial and manufacturing sectors have been early adopters of private LTE networks. LTE provides a reliable, low-latency connection that can support essential IoT and automation applications that are part of production processes. Industrial private networks are more complex and highly targeted compared to WANs. Here are the essential network components of an industrial private network:
- A Radio Access Network (RAN) to prioritize key data flows relating to the manufacturing process and protect the connectivity from interference or failure.
- An Evolved Packet Core that runs an Ethernet-based industrial communications protocol.
- User Data Management to assign and unassign end-user devices and set the quality of service classes within the private network.
- Business Support Systems (BSS) and Operational Support Systems (OSS) are used to manage the operational aspects of the industrial private network and integrate the network with the manufacturing process.
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Indoor private LTE networks
Enterprises that need reliable indoor cellular network coverage can achieve this with an indoor private network. These private networks distribute the cellular signal throughout large and complex buildings and estates where it may not easily penetrate walls.
By installing the LTE network indoors, enterprises can benefit from high-speed low latency connectivity for complex applications that have high data throughput. The cellular network is more secure and resilient against interference when compared to Wi-Fi, ZigBee, and Bluetooth.
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Benefits of a private LTE network
A cellular private wireless network is the leading solution for mission-critical enterprise and industrial applications. Though using the licensed spectrum comes at a cost, private LTE networking provides unique benefits which include:
The Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) that developed LTE has made this cellular networking technology secure by design, meaning that private LTE networks can take advantage of these robust cybersecurity features.
The security measures that LTE uses cover discrete network elements rather than the entire system meaning that attackers would have to work harder to penetrate the network. The 3GPP actively supports LTE with security updates.
LTE security standards and protocols focus on key areas of its function:
- Network access
- User domain
- Network domain
- Application domain
The network operator can configure, control, and implement a variety of advanced security features that ensure that the private network is resilient against interference and brute-force attack.
LTE-based private networks have enough bandwidth available to isolate and secure transferred data on specific channels, preventing attacks that spy on or attempt to disable the network. Public devices cannot use the network so it is less likely to be affected by interference or overloading. Administrators can use Subscriber Identification Module (SIM) technology to grant or withhold network access. Alternatively, network owners can create custom user authentication and access control protocols.
Communication and data transfer
You can use a private network for real-time communication and data transfer to the Cloud. A typical private network has adequate bandwidth to support both IoT devices and cell phones for personnel.
The coverage of private cellular networks supports devices that are mobile or send their data over long distances. One ‘cell’ in a cellular network can achieve several kilometers of coverage, so devices can roam without becoming disconnected from your network.
Cellular networking is the most reliable of the wireless networking technologies with fast upload and download speeds. By using cellular for your private network you can take advantage of licensed frequency bands that have ample bandwidth for maintaining an interference-free connection.
Cellular networks have consistent data rates and performance issues like transmission delays and errors are more predictable. This makes it easier to integrate the network into your organizations existing infrastructure and keep end-user modules and device functioning correctly.
Private networks can support high-throughput technologies like artificial intelligence, Machine 2 Machine (M2M), and complex automation. Network operators can allocate dedicated frequency bands, adding additional bandwidth if required by the private network.
Expand and scale your private network by simply asking for more bandwidth and coverage from the mobile operator. Unlike unlicensed networks, a mobile operator can allocate more bandwidth and frequency channels to a growing enterprise, or extend the network’s coverage for inaccessible or remote locations.
Private networks are highly customizable so you can use them to provide data connectivity for niche M2M and IoT applications. Use your private network to cover strategic locations like campuses, mines, ports, or industrial estates. Private networking also offers the potential for diverse integrations with the business systems and industrial equipment of the network owner.
Deciding on the type of cellular network to deploy
You can build a private network in a variety of ways. Options range from virtualized private networks that secure their bandwidth from the public network to standalone networks that have dedicated infrastructure.
The following factors need to be considered when deciding on the type of technology you will use:
Private LTE networking is still an emerging technology with a high Total Cost of Ownership (TCO). Elements that affect the cost of building a private LTE network include:
- The type of site and its size in square kilometers
- The presence of indoor and outdoor areas
- The country the LTE spectrum operates in
- The spectrum range used by the network
- Network hardware including
- Radio base stations (Remote Radio Head and eNodeB)
- Evolved Packet Core
- LTE 4G gateways
- The number and type of connected devices (devices per cell) including
- Worker Tablets
- Security cameras
- Vehicle routers
- IoT Sensors
Analysts have suggested that turnkey deployment of a standalone private Evolved Packet Core (network framework) that can support up to 50,000 subscriber devices could cost as much as $1.2 million.
However, as the adoption of private networks steadily increases and solutions diversify, the costs are falling. You can buy virtualized private network services from mobile operators on a subscription basis, with monthly or quarterly payments. Mobile operators provide their services with fixed pricing according to the number of subscriber devices that take part in the network.
The resources available to run and maintain the network
A private network requires ongoing management and maintenance to ensure it provides an appropriate service level for its applications. Private network monitoring and control include
- Continuous monitoring with anomaly detection
- Implementation of updates
- Subscriber Identity Module management
- Quality of service (QoS) management
These complexities mean many companies opt to deploy their private network using a managed service provided by established mobile network operators. The network provided is virtualized, using a secured portion of the public network on a subscription basis.
Integration with existing local area networks and the internet
You also need to consider how the private network will integrate with your existing networks. An advantage of cellular networking is its fast and reliable internet connectivity. You can use this to your advantage by transferring data from end devices to a Cloud-based platform where you can harmonize it with data transferred via other technologies you use, like Bluetooth, ZigBee, LoRa, or Wi-Fi.
The type of application the network is for
The use case or application of the private network should guide your decision-making on the type of private network you need. Standalone cellular networks offer the security and reliability required by critical industrial applications like machinery telemetry, or the remote control of hazardous equipment. A virtualized network that integrates with the public network might be a better option for transport and logistics where asset tracking may take place over long distances or across territories. In this situation, there can be a handover between the private and public networks if the tracked goods move out of the range of the private network.
The legality of running a private network
For most countries, a state telecommunications regulator strictly regulates the allocation of licensed radio spectrum. Regulators award licenses to mobile operators for spectrum use in specific regions and territories, determining the level of coverage they can provide.
Private cellular networks can only use portions of the radio spectrum that have been designated for shared use or allocated out of the licensed frequency bands of an existing mobile operator. Even the legitimate use of suitable frequency bands may be subject to restrictions placed by the regulator to prevent interference or prioritize other spectrum users.
Private cellular network options
You have a range of options for setting up a private network. Understanding the different types and service agreements can help your organization select the arrangement that will best support your devices and personnel. Here are the leading options for private networks in 2022:
Private network virtualization
Procuring private cellular networking resources from public cellular networks enables enterprises to use existing infrastructure that already has a demonstrable performance in data transfer for IoT. Private network customers also benefit from the mobile operator’s expertise, support, and massive resources for scaling.
Network operators can create multiple virtualized networks that use the existing public network via secure channels. This is network slicing and offers robust security, data isolation, and low latency.
Managed services with dedicated radio equipment
You can also implement a standalone private mobile network using dedicated LTE radio equipment provided by the mobile network operators under a Service Level Agreement controlled by the end-user organization. The mobile network operator can customize the design and operation of the network to meet end-user requirements. Managed private networks support specific applications like edge computing or complex data storage.
Isolated private cell network
This is the most isolated, secure, and expensive private networking option as it is a completely independent network with no connectivity or interoperability with public services. Standalone private cellular networks require in-house management as end-user organizations are directly responsible for how the spectrum is used. Standalone private networks are a solution for extremely remote or inaccessible locations like mines, field hospitals, or oil platforms.
Key private LTE network solutions in 2023
The growing interest and demand for private cellular networking have accelerated the innovation and development in this area of telecommunications. These three solutions have been key to greater accessibility and reduced costs of private cellular networks:
Small cells are essential hardware for running an indoor network. These compact and streamlined modules contain low-power cellular radio equipment and a wired backhaul to operate as a mini base station for the immediate area. There are three types of small cells you can use:
- Femtocells, the smallest unit (palm-sized) with coverage between 32 and 164 feet (10 to 50 meters).
- Picocells, are A4-sized base stations that provide up to 200 meters / 656 feet of coverage.
- Microcells are the largest of the small cell modules and use a wired or fiber backhaul to drive coverage of up to 2 kilometers (1.2 miles).
Distributed Antenna System (DAS)
Distributed Antenna Systems use multiple spatially separated, networked antennas or small cells that can extend a private network or increase its capacity for data transfer. The distributed arrangement provides high-speed, low-latency data transfer and can also support voice calls.
Cellular LTE gateways
Cellular LTE gateways are high-utility modules that provide access to a private LTE network for fast and efficient bidirectional data transfer. This nimble solution facilitates integration with other wireless protocols including Bluetooth Low Energy, ZigBee, Wi-Fi, and Z-WAVE. LTE gateways are highly programmable and also integrate seamlessly with the Cloud-based platforms and applications an enterprise may use.
Shared frequency bands
In some territories, communications regulators are opening up new portions of the radio spectrum for shared use. An example of this more lightly licensed approach is the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) of the United States. This 3.5 GHz frequency band is available to businesses for private cellular networking at a reduced cost. Businesses can gain licensed access to a portion of this 150 MHz band directly or purchase access via third-party license holders.
Example applications and use cases of private cellular networking
Cellular is one of the most versatile wireless technologies, so you can use it to build a private network that is completely tailored to your commercial and operational needs. Here are some example applications and use cases for private networking in 2022:
Private LTE networking is useful for tracking valuable assets within warehouses or over long distances as they are transported. Goods that leave the range of the private LTE network can continue to be tracked using the public mobile network or GPS.
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Hauliers, couriers, and even emergency vehicle dispatchers can use a private LTE network to monitor and manage a fleet of vehicles. LTE is more reliable than GPS for tracking vehicles because the signal is stronger and can carry more data. Voice data can also be transferred, so drivers and fleet managers can stay in contact.
Telemetry is vital for monitoring the condition and performance of mission-critical components and machinery as they operate in the industry. Data feeds from IoT sensors that monitor temperature, mechanical stress, or loads use a reliable and secure private LTE connection to transfer their data to Cloud-based platforms using a secure and reliable LTE connection. Engineers can then use the data to identify and take action to remedy any wear or deterioration in equipment function remotely before it breaks down.
Autonomous vehicles and robotics
High-speed, low-latency connectivity is essential for the safe monitoring and control of autonomous vehicles and robots used in industrial sites or warehouses. A private LTE network can provide a secure interference-free connection that supports the high throughput of autonomous vehicles’ data for safe navigation over large distances.
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A private LTE network can be used to develop smart home solutions that are extremely secure and responsive. One of the big issues with implementing smart home solutions is that they use a variety of technologies including Wi-Fi, ZigBee, Bluetooth, and LoRa. These wireless networking protocols are incompatible and difficult to bring under a single network controller. By using a Cellular LTE-based smart home gateway that is compatible with the leading wireless protocols, data inputs from a variety of smart home devices can be transferred via the LTE gateway to a Cloud-based platform for precision control.
Building a private network has become an accessible solution for many companies. These networks are a key solution for supporting the exponential growth in demand for IoT connections as we approach the mid-decade. Use the technologies and service options shared here to build a robust network that can support the growth of your business.