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'Beauty of Wireless'

Las Vegas Keeps Finding New Uses for Private CBRS Network

Las Vegas has been able to deploy a private network in just three years, initially as a way to control costs, but it continues to find new ways to use the network, said Michael Sherwood, the city’s chief innovation and technology officer, at the Private Networks Global Forum Tuesday. Other speakers said momentum is starting to build for private networks.

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The beauty of wireless is the ability to deploy quickly,” Sherwood said. Fiber takes a long time to build, he said: “We are able to deploy new sensors, new cameras, new computer-vision systems in a relatively short amount of time. … It’s making a difference, and it’s making a difference quickly.”

Las Vegas decided to build a private network to control costs, Sherwood said. That was months before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. Monthly charges from the major carriers were too expensive to build a smart city, he said. “Imagine trying to outfit 3,000 trash cans at $40 a month or $20 a month -- that becomes expensive,” he said: “We were looking for other ways to scale IoT technology but in a way that was affordable.”

After looking at different technologies, Las Vegas decided to focus on citizens broadband radio service spectrum, Sherwood said. As trials began, the pandemic hit, and the city began using the CBRS band to reach students who had to learn at home, he said. In 45 days, the city built a network starting with 35 transmitters installed at fire stations and community centers, he said. The city installed Wi-Fi access points in students’ homes because at the time the Chromebooks the school system was using didn’t have CBRS connections, he said. “We were able to support school children connecting to their school,” he said.

Las Vegas is using CBRS spectrum only in the general authorized access tier and hasn’t bought spectrum licenses, Sherwood said. “We don’t own spectrum,” he said. We “haven’t had problems with that yet,” he said.

The city is now using the band for telehealth at assisted-living centers, Sherwood said. It's also using CBRS to provide internet for the homeless, most of whom own smartphones, he said: “They can get internet. They can stay part of the economy. They can bank.” The network’s footprint covers a large part of the downtown area, with broader coverage than Wi-Fi, he noted. The city is using CBRS for air quality, traffic and other sensors that are part of the IoT, he said. Light timing of traffic signals is moving to the network, he said. Las Vegas is also looking at using the spectrum for autonomous vehicles, he said.

Private networks are moving from the “purely exploratory phase” to “real commercial deployments,” said Leo Gergs, ABI Research senior research analyst. “The market is maturing,” he said. Companies aren’t ripping out existing infrastructure to deploy just a private cellular network, he said. Wi-Fi and private cellular “will continue to coexist and converge for enterprises,” he said. Convergence of Wi-Fi and 5G “will be the name of the game,” he said. Different use cases will use different technologies, he said.

Gergs warned that 3rd Generation Partnership Project Release 16 devices and handsets are “not emerging” in adequate numbers. Providers are also realizing that for enterprise customers connectivity is only part of digitalization, he said: “A much larger aspect will be applications and services.”

Cisco started a private network program in response to demand from customers, said Krishna Chirala, director-product management. “Sales people from all across the world were pretty much pounding on the table saying that we need the solution now,” she said. Cisco launched its solution two years ago targeting manufacturers, she said. Companies in countries like Germany and Japan had “already acquired the 5G licenses, and they were ready to deploy,” she said.

Factories are becoming “more and more dynamic,” said Utku Pazar, chief strategy and digital officer at Turkey’s Arcelik Global. In the past, a factory would be designed and stay largely the same for 10 or 20 years, but now changes happen every few months to increase capacity or introduce new products, he said. “Every day there’s a digitalization project and this increases the demand for reliable coverage within the company,” he said. Companies are finding that Wi-Fi alone doesn’t provide the reliable coverage manufacturers need, Pazar said.