Transportation hubs likely to deploy private wireless networks using CBRS

When the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) asked the wireless industry to weigh in on its rules for how CBRS spectrum should be allocated and managed, the agency heard from a lot of entities that are not part of the traditional wireless ecosystem. FedEx, Union Pacific Railroad and the Port of Los Angeles were among those who took an active interest in the CBRS rule-making process. “It’s pretty clear that the transportation and logistics community is looking for the ability to deploy private cellular networks,” said Dave Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance.

Wright said these entities are looking for capabilities they can't get from Wi-Fi. “They’re looking for technologies that give them increased range,” he said. Some companies want to connect cameras to private networks, and others want to send people into the cargo holds of aircraft to scan items as they are loaded and unloaded. “The technologies that they could deploy themselves, up until now, haven’t had the range, and haven’t had the penetration of the aircraft fuselages,” he said. Category B base stations for CBRS can enable coverage of an entire airport facility with enough power to penetrate "the belly of an aircraft,” said Wright.

Analysts agree that CBRS is a better solution than Wi-Fi for enterprise networks serving transportation hubs. "When you are talking about devices that move around, such as in a transportation facility or in a logistics facility, I do believe that CBRS, or just cellular in general, is a very well-suited technology," said Chris DePuy, technology analyst at The 650 Group.

Shipping ports are seen as a prime use case for private cellular networks. Trucks and containers are in constant motion, but vehicles stay in a defined area and do not interact with outside traffic. “Those are really good cases because the kind of transportation you have in a harbor is much more limited and more controlled than you’d have on a freeway,” said analyst Monica Paolini, founder and president of Senza Fili. “So I think that that’s going to be happening much earlier than transportation in public areas because it’s a much more controlled environment.” 

Asset tracking, routing and equipment monitoring are potential use cases for CBRS networks in a controlled environment transportation hub. The networks can also enable automated guided vehicles (AGVs) to move cargo without employing a driver. “You need to have an application to manage them,” Paolini said. “At the same time, you need to have applications around them to make sure everyone is safe. You need to make sure they don’t injure anyone or their cargo.” 

CBRS can also be used for logistics operations that are managed using push-to-talk radios. Motorola has launched an OnGo two-way PTT radio and is marketing it to warehouses, hotels, factories and theme parks --- enterprises that rely on wireless communication for real-time logistics. The PTT radio is part of a larger CBRS private network solution that Motorola is marketing to enterprise customers.

In order to deploy CBRS networks, transportation hubs and logistics centers will need fixed access points and spectrum. Warehouses and airports may have easy access to CBRS spectrum through general authorized access (GAA) because there are unlikely to be other users of the spectrum nearby. But downtown transportation hubs will not be so lucky - they may need to lease the spectrum from a licensee or try to acquire a license themselves through the FCC's auction process.

A significant number of CBRS licenses are expected to end up in the hands of traditional mobile operators, who will be able to use them to create CBRS networks for customers. "Managed service offerings from the carriers will play a large role," said Wright. "They've certainly got the expertise with the technology that just about nobody else has at that level."

There are already a number of examples of carrier-supported private LTE networks in the transportation and logistics space. In Scandinavia, three separate ports have worked with network operator Edzcom and equipment vendor Nokia to deploy private networks. In addition to supplying the spectrum, Edzcom builds, designs and operates the networks. The company has already deployed more than two dozen private LTE networks.

Wright predicts that in the U.S., some entities will deploy without a carrier partner. "Some of these transportation and logistics companies are very keen to deploy their own solutions,” he said. “Data security and data privacy and integrity are very critical to them.... They would rather not have the data flow up to a mobile operator’s core and then come back down to them.... They would much rather operate their own mobile core, EPC or 5G core and have that data stay on-premise.”