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2020 – the year of TETRA, 5G and smart motorways

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By Ingo Flomer, CTO, Cobham Wireless

Today, most of us are satisfied with the performance we receive on our mobile phones, which removes any financial incentives for building owners to introduce the widely-discussed 5G user experience. This is likely change when 5G devices become more affordable and widespread, and when new 5G services appear.

From a technical standpoint, upgrading platforms to 5G means wider frequency bands, for example 400MHz in band 3.5, with 3.5GHz for most indoor environments, to boost capacity rather than increase coverage. Ethernet-based protocols will be applied to increase efficiency, supporting the transport of more RF within the same bandwidth.

On the other hand, even though not gaining much ground with consumers, 5G is doing very well in the industrial environments, connecting manufacturing and processing plants, ports, mines, utilities and agricultural facilities through the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), or Industry 4.0. Cellular connectivity may have been enough for factories in 2019, but in 2020 and beyond, these buildings will also require ultra-low-latency high-reliability machine-to-machine (M2M) connectivity. China is making great strides in this area, thanks in part to its “Made in China 2025” initiative. Its government plans to make it a manufacturing superpower via advanced technologies and high-end numerical control tools and robotics.

TETRA for public safety

We can’t talk about public safety communications without mentioning the Emergency Services Network (ESN). When the LTE network is up and running, expected to offer huge benefits in this area, including services such as streaming live video to a central emergency-responders’ control room, running biometric scanning against a database in real time for instant identification of individuals at the scene of an accident, and more.

However, the switch from a TETRA to an LTE system won’t happen overnight and must be done gradually. TETRA works at 400MHz and wideband works on a minimum of 800MHz, which means that signal penetration into buildings is half as good, leaving many areas not covered.

Rolling out ESN will introduce interesting new commercial opportunities, which means that UK venue owners will be obliged to provide public safety coverage on their premises. New business models may emerge, seeing operators like EE adding public safety services to an existing distributed antenna systems (DAS), co-financed with venue owners. Or, venue owners could follow a neutral host model approach, which covers not only emergency service comms but cellular too, and then lease this to operators. These opportunities are only available with LTE public safety connectivity, which is why ESN is so important.

Smartening up transport

Transport is becoming a key focus of smart city development, as roads and railways, in particular, remain notorious “not-spots” for cellular communication.

In 2018, Germany set an example in terms of connectivity, with telecoms regulator Bundesnetzagentur (BNetzA) promising that all autobahns, federal highways and railways have 100Mbps coverage from 5G services by the end of 2022. A similar move was recently announced in the UK, too, with EE guaranteeing 5G network coverage for all transport hubs.

However, getting reliable 4G mobile coverage is still a challenge for commuters on many rail routes and stations, even though it needn’t be such a hurdle. Solutions exist that can overcome the challenge of providing reliable voice and data coverage in all places – a crucial part of passenger experience.

There will come a time when a complete 5G coverage is necessary; for now, however, more important is adequate 4G mobile coverage, to guarantee quality of service for consumers but also to support business and operator growth. We expect to see more investment and further government announcements regarding smart railways and motorways throughout 2020.

And in a similar vein, increasing capacity and coverage in shipping ports is emerging as means of unlocking new revenue opportunities and driving the smart city/IIoT concept. When offshore, most ships collect and utilise massive amounts of data via satellite. When ships come into port, however, all this data must be sent on-shore, before the ship’s arrival and cargo offload. This could include data on, for example, the temperature and quality of the cargo. DAS, or a distributed antenna system, will play an important role in this field.

[Image credit: Lawrence Hookham for Unsplash]

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