As the IoT expands, so do the scale of projects and applications. The industrial IoT (IIoT) will be characterised by sites with a high volume of connected devices and sensors – such as processing plants, mining and oil exploration, shipping ports – which require always-on, ultra-low latency, ultra-reliable and ultra-secure cellular connectivity. Signal in these environments often supports mission critical applications and needs to penetrate industrial-grade infrastructure, and hardware needs to withstand often harsh environments. Connectivity must be robust and reliable: failures, poor coverage and outages could risk to revenues and safety.
What does this mean for 2019? Whilst in the future, it’ll be 5G that facilitates the IIoT, next year we’ll see a demand from the IIoT sector for 4.5G, which can support a wide range of IoT services. 4.5G technology can co-exist with 5G when the networks arrive and will continue to be used for years to come. There will therefore be a demand for coverage systems that can support 4.5G today, and also be able to support 5G when the technology arrives. Networks must be inherently scalable and able to support a range of different radio frequencies which will be used by the IoT.
Venue owners will take LTE into their own hands
The demand for high-capacity in-building coverage will continue to grow; most of us now expect to be able to use our phones wherever we go. Businesses like hotels, shopping centres, and sports stadiums require adequate mobile coverage not just to meet visitor expectations, but also to help unlock value-added in-venue services – these could include things like dedicated apps and navigation tools. LTE coverage is also required in office buildings and shared work spaces to fill in for patchy Wi-Fi, as well as emergency services communications.
For years, building owners have asked mobile operators for dedicated indoor cellular coverage, but little progress has been made. Failing to provide adequate coverage could seriously dent real estate lease rates, and as such we’ll see a growing number of venue owners taking LTE coverage into their own hands. Lacking technical experience and know-how, these parties will require value-added resellers and systems integrators to develop networks for them which are cost-effective and can support multiple operators. This model, called neutral host, enables a venue to own the network, and open it up to a number of different operators to supply connectivity.
Operators will share infrastructure to lower costs
For years, operators have been reluctant to share hardware and network infrastructure, and have instead worked independently. However, the costs involved with building, deploying and maintaining network infrastructure mean that in many cases this approach is no longer tenable.
2019 will see growing acceptance in the industry of operators sharing infrastructure, in order to minimise costs and ensure that coverage demands from consumers and businesses can be met as quickly as possible. In the UK, we’ll see the results of Ofcom’s move – announced earlier this year – to introduce unrestricted access to Openreach’s underground ducts and telegraph poles, in order to expedite the deployment of fibre networks.
Large venues, such as stadiums, airports and shopping malls will be increasingly creating their own networks, which will be designed to be shared by multiple operators. This offers a great opportunity for operators to begin sharing infrastructure, and will establish a blueprint for cost-effective in-building connectivity for the future.
Emergency services will reap the benefits of LTE data
Following years of development, in 2019 we’ll see the results of investments in LTE public safety networks and the delivery of data services for emergency services. In the US this October, AT&T announced the first LTE-enabled body cameras, which are set to transmit live video footage via the dedicated ‘fast lane’ for public safety comms. However, devices such as these won’t be cheap, so we’ll need to see more hardware produced and sold at a lower price point, to enable the kind of image- and video-sharing the network has promised first responders.
A further challenge for AT&T and FirstNet is deciding how the carrier will deliver in-building coverage universally across the States. A clear in-building strategy for public safety connectivity has yet to be defined, but AT&T, FirstNet and the SBC are currently working to address the regulations and codes for coverage, which includes the indoor signal strength and the level of coverage that needs to be provided in each building. Once this has been determined, FirstNet will be able to decide how the Fire Code standards, which are designed to improve safety and minimize risk in the event of a fire or other on-site emergency, apply to the new network. Importantly, public safety coverage technology vendors must be ready to update their in-building coverage solutions to support FirstNet’s specifications, with solutions potentially needing to be retrofitted to support Band 14.
C-RAN and MEC come together
Mission critical IoT – and IIoT – applications will require processing power to move closer to the end-user, due to the demand for ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency connectivity. Think of a case like remote robotic surgery, where there has to be almost no lag time, and data has to be sent, received and processed in real time. Processing this data in a remotely-located data centre will not be enough; instead, processing power must move closer to the end-user. This is Mobile Edge Computing (MEC), and has been gaining momentum in recent years. It is, however, pretty expensive to deploy.
The C-RAN approach, whereby baseband processing is focussed and managed in one central location away from a venue, has already been identified as the critical network architecture for supporting the connectivity needs of the IoT. In 2019, we’ll see the convergence of the two technologies, with operators able to make cost savings by deploying C-RAN and MEC infrastructure together, rather than having to make separate, costly investments.