US private 5G needs major improvements to support business

Analyst finds shared airwaves experiment will require considerable improvement to fulfil the promise of enterprise 5G

Businesses across the world are seeing the benefits of acquiring packages of mobile spectrum from their countries’ mobile operators to run private networks, and in the US, after years of regulatory, standardisation and technical implementation activities, the citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) in the 3.5GHz spectrum band is helping to support new applications possible at an affordable cost.

However, a study from ABI Research has concluded that despite the continued deployment and commercial success of the CBRS shared spectrum platform, considerable improvements need to be made for large-scale deployments to fulfil the promise of enterprise 5G.

The paper, Dynamic spectrum sharing for private cellular, commissioned by radio frequency (RF) infrastructure, monitoring and analysis firm DGS, states that in the enterprise domain, private cellular is a relatively new value proposition, which allows enterprises to deploy mission-critical wireless networks on-premise to enable existing and new types of use cases. It notes that many enterprises have now deployed these networks to improve existing use cases and enable new ones.

Existing use cases include overcoming Wi-Fi’s security and coverage limitations, such as at manufacturing plants which have deployed private cellular networks for better connectivity for their automated guided vehicles (AGVs), resulting in faster AGVs and significantly improved operational efficiency. New use cases have seen businesses such as mining companies deploy private cellular in open pit mines, allowing for completely automated operation for their equipment, including trucks and digging equipment. This is said to have improved human safety considerably, especially in areas where blasting takes place.

Yet before success could be guaranteed, ABI cautioned that there were several significant challenges to overcome, including overestimated interference levels, higher costs and a staggering 24-hour latency period to detect spectrum interference.

ABI proposes dynamic spectrum sharing (DSS) as the answer to these issues, delivering near real-time decision-making with far greater accuracy. It also noted that at the same time, policymakers are on the cusp of announcing a change in US airwave auction policy that would require some form of spectrum sharing, as recommended by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

Interference management and RF awareness are seen in the paper as critical areas for improvement, but it warns that this issue can only be addressed by understanding the RF channel in near real time and ensuring that potential interferers are managed effectively, again in near real time. This, it said, is not possible given the status of the CBRS framework, and improvements suggested by the OnGo Alliance – an industry consortium that promotes the development, commercialisation, and adoption of LTE and 5G solutions – would have to be universally adopted and implemented to ensure that deployments are behaving in the same manner everywhere.

A dynamic spectrum-sharing proposal suggested by DGS looks to make sure that interference or channel impairments can be addressed in near real time. The company said this would be a necessity to ensure that general authorised access (GAA) networks remain interference-free and do not depend on the draconian planning process used by the CBRS framework and SAS providers.

The bottom line, said the paper, was that a better RF interference, visibility and management solution would be necessary for CBRS spectrum to fulfil its promise and deliver reliable and carrier-grade wireless networks to many enterprises.

Concluding, the study noted that mission-critical cellular systems need to be robust, not be interference-prone, and surely not wait for tens of hours to reconfigure their power levels if an interferer appears in their vicinity. ABI Research expects that dynamic spectrum sharing will not only be necessary for the future of GAA deployments, but will also significantly augment its capabilities.

Beyond CBRS, the study stated enabling true dynamic spectrum sharing would help the telecoms industry use mobile network spectrum more efficiently and, therefore, become an important enabler of fuelling an increasingly digital society. Especially with topics like sustainability and efficient use of resources growing in importance, dynamic spectrum sharing was thus expected to become an even more important building block in a comprehensive digitisation strategy. 

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