Shared Spectrum: A New Solution to IoT Connectivity Challenges

Technologies based on the 3.5 GHz band, dubbed OnGo by the CBRS Alliance, enable interference-free LTE services for Internet of Things deployments.
Published: August 18, 2019

Many commercial and industrial organizations are exploring Internet of Things (IoT) solutions to drive productivity, automation and cost-savings within their business. A recent Spiceworks survey confirms that 86 percent of companies with more than 5,000 employees plan to adopt IoT solutions by 2020. Although the market forecasts are positive and the deployment opportunities seem endless, there are critical connectivity challenges that must be addressed before organizations can experience the next phase of digital transformation.

IoT devices require superior network speeds, capacity, communication latency and reliability—and managing the connectivity of hundreds or even thousands of sensors and devices poses a critical challenge that threatens the adoption of IoT deployments. Existing wireless offerings, like Wi-Fi, are easy to install and inexpensive to deploy, but they lack dependability for mission-critical IoT use cases.

Additionally, LTE solutions, which are highly reliable and secure, haven’t been viewed as a viable option because of the lack of available wireless spectrum required for effective deployments. Due to the current absence of cost-effective, easy-to-manage solutions, organizations face a connectivity issue that poses a significant barrier to extensive market adoption.

Empowering IoT Deployments
Using some impressive foresight, in April 2015, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) established the Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) framework to open additional spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band through an innovative sharing mechanism. In 2017, industry leaders came together to form the CBRS Alliance to encourage the development, commercialization and adoption of LTE solutions for this newly available spectrum. At present, the organization is 140 members strong and growing, representing every part of the wireless ecosystem.

In the new CBRS model, 150 MHz of underutilized wireless spectrum is efficiently shared by taking advantage of advanced allocation and coordination techniques implemented as cloud services—a revolutionary, dynamic option that will define the future of how spectrum is utilized. Technologies based on the 3.5 GHz band, named OnGo, offer organizations an opportunity for interference-free LTE services that target connectivity gaps where organizations need it most, including IoT deployments.

There are many use cases for private LTE enterprise networks empowered by OnGo, ranging from outdoor operations, such as mining, utilities and transportation, to indoor operation, like health care and hospitality. LTE can both support new applications and improve existing data services.

Let’s explore some specific scenarios:

Oil & Gas
Oil and gas operations deploy IoT-connected devices to create intelligent environments and drive increased operational efficiency, using data gathered from a wide variety of sources. Improving connectivity in the field can be difficult, as it requires a complex array of reliable systems that allow users to complete a wide range of tasks.

OnGo makes it possible to create affordable LTE networks with far less complexity. The modernized, robust connectivity systems can interconnect disparate work teams, allowing organizations to work smarter and reduce operational expenses. For example, CBRS Alliance members are currently working to deploy OnGo-enabled solutions at the Inglewood Oil Field in California.

Shipping Ports
Increasing container traffic is overwhelming port operators, ultimately congesting distribution and straining asset health. LTE networks can support the secure automation of mobile equipment within the port. Port operations use large, automated cranes and ground vehicles, and they need connectivity for safety as well as broadband access for employees. The reliability of Wi-Fi is not high enough for automation of heavy equipment. Also, in a large, outdoor environment like a port, the number of access points required and managed could be high.

The availability of CBRS spectrum makes it possible to create affordable, reliable LTE networks for port automation. For example, with OnGo-enabled solutions, U.S.-based ports, such as the Port of Oakland, which loads and discharges more than 99 percent of the containerized goods moving through Northern California, can deploy high-performance networks to drive significant cost-savings.

The total installed base of IoT connected devices is projected to amount to 75.44 billion worldwide by 2025, a five-fold increase in ten years, according to predictions by Statista. Furthermore, Harbor Research estimates the global opportunity for LTE in industrial and business-critical environments will be significant, with an addressable market expected to exceed 750 million device shipments by 2023.

The good news is that the CBRS band is not confined to LTE—it is increasingly being viewed as a band well-suited for 5G deployments. To deliver secure, high-quality connectivity, organizations can look to OnGo technology as a viable, cost-effective alternative. For enterprises seeking to refresh existing Wi-Fi deployments, or preparing to install new networks to optimize operations, OnGo is a compelling proposition.

Alan Ewing is the executive director of the CBRS Alliance, an industry consortium of more than 100 wireless and telecom organizations who believe that LTE-based solutions in the 3.5 GHz band, utilizing shared spectrum, can enable both in-building and outdoor coverage and capacity expansion at a massive scale. Alan has more than 25 years’ experience working in telecom and technology standardization, with more than 15 years of that time at Nokia. He has extensive experience in working with different industry associations and standards-development organizations, including the Bluetooth SIG, the Wi-Fi Alliance, the NFC Forum, ETSI, CTIA and may others. He is a graduate of the University of Tennessee.