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Opinion by Iain

Is the ‘killer app’ for private wireless networks also the simplest?

March 22, 2022 | We in the wireless industry love to talk about the ‘killer app’ for a new technology, network or device, i.e., the application or use case that justifies the initial deployment or investment.  For the first cellular network, voice service and the ability to move and talk was the main reason for building the networks.  As we moved into 3G, the killer app was arguably texting or email access (think Blackberry).  For 4G LTE, reliable data connectivity gave rise to a range of apps, from streaming music to maps, photos, video and basic gaming.  I would argue that for the smartphone, the real ‘killer app’ is the touch screen and user interface.  No doubt someone would argue!

But what about private wireless networks?  What is the main use case that justifies the initial implementation?  It cannot be as simple as ‘data access’ since Wi-Fi has provided wireless data access in buildings and enterprises for years.  And DAS has provided cellular access in many buildings for the last couple of decades.

At iGR we are building a new database targeted at the private wireless networking ecosystem (more on this in a couple of weeks).  As a result, we have been talking to many different systems integrators and vendors in the private wireless networks space.  The initial use cases and deployments for private networks (mainly using CBRS in the U.S.) vary across industries and vertical markets.  But at their core, they all share one common feature.

And it is very simple: replacing wires.  While this may seem obvious, it is not trivial.  Consider the use case of putting security cameras around a building – wires are required for bandwidth, as well as power.  While Wi-Fi could be used, the need to dedicate bandwidth and ensure security means that a private wireless network using LTE would be a better fit.  Using CBRS, for example, cameras could be mounted anywhere around the building, wherever there is power.  Pulling a power cable is usually easier and cheaper than providing connectivity back to a central point.  And using private wireless means that the cameras can be moved at will without the need to rework the cabling for connectivity.

Now substitute the security camera for a point-of-sale machine, machine tool, nursing station, airport security screening station or any other connected device and you can see the commonality of needing to replace wires.  For the airport, power is available in many places (look down in the floor for the recessed outlets) which means a point-of-sale or security station could be placed as needed.

OK, so now I hear people cry, “But what about education and schools? That is not replacing wires!”  After all, CBRS has been used by many school districts to provide secure, reliable connectivity to students and faculty alike during the pandemic.  Even in this use case, we could argue that the private network is replacing wires; after all, the child would need a wired connection to connect to school for lessons.

Once the private network is built, of course, then application stacking begins.  The initial justification may be as simple as the need to replace wires but once this happens, other applications are deployed using the same network.  Just as a mobile phone grew into a smartphone (which is really a Swiss Army knife device full of applications) so the same is true of private wireless networks in the enterprise.  Support the first use case and others will follow.  And more than likely, that first use case will be as simple as replacing a wired bandwidth connection.


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