Barcelona-based Neutroon, a spin-off of one of the largest R&D labs for the European telco industry, is bringing to market a network-as-a-service (NaaS) platform that shows it is possible to migrate, gracefully and deliberately, to the next generation of 5G-enabled private networks. This finally breaks the lock that wireless carriers have had on cellular networks in Smart Systems applications.
A PLATFORM DEFICIT AND NEW THINKING FROM EUROPE
As we move into the rapidly evolving networked economy of the 21st century, leaders of the business community seem to believe that the best possible designs for enterprise and mission critical networks are already in place, or soon will be. They take it on faith that the existing telco equipment and systems suppliers are in command of the situation—in particular, that our incumbent technology players are hard at work creating management and support tools for a new generation of private cellular networks that will bring about our unified global future.
That is a huge and unfounded assumption. The truth is that even though smart connected devices are already a phenomenon of unprecedented scale, encompassing billions—and before long trillions—of nodes, we still do not have platform-designs in place that will enable network connectivity on this scale, or accommodate the world-changing data that will flow from it.
Recently, we had the opportunity to evaluate technology developed in the last 5 years by Neutroon, a spin-off of the i2CAT Foundation in Barcelona, Spain, one of the largest R&D labs for the telco industry in Europe. Neutroon’s innovations demonstrate that it is possible to migrate gracefully and deliberately to the next generation of 5G-enabled private networks, with all the promise we have been hearing about for years now—but only if we first accept that the tools available today were not designed for the tasks they are now routinely performing.
THE ADVENT OF 5G NETWORKS
In the not-far-off future, traditional IT and telephony devices will become a very small portion of the connected world. Consider that the number of connected devices already on Earth, almost 7.5 billion, has surpassed the number of people alive on the planet. The installed base could easily approach 30 billion units in 2025, over three times the global population. Wireless technology convergence, combined with the new world of IoT and Smart Systems, is quickly ushering in an era where people, machines, devices, sensors and businesses could all be connected and able to interact with each other, virtually in real-time.
If, that is, an organic, scalable environment for this were in place. Right now, many schemes and so-called “standards” for device connectivity exist, but those many solutions add up to a huge problem: Users don’t want many. They want one solution that works seamlessly for everything, and therein lies the challenge. A device connectivity network of that scale, supporting the necessary automation and application diversity, has never been assembled before.
5G is Driving a Confluence of Technology Innovation to Enable IoT Value
Cellular 5G, or the 5th Generation mobile network, promises to change the game for wireless networking. Multi-gigabyte-per-second data speeds, ultra-low latency, greater reliability and increased overall network capacity, among other improvements, uniquely position 5G to support the data and connectivity requirements of many thousands of connected systems. This is especially relevant to mission critical industries, where the trend of Industry 4.0 creates new opportunities—and new vulnerabilities.
Within the fast-paced 5G evolution, a new generation of wireless communications—known as Private LTE and 5G networks—has been developed specifically for challenging mission- and business-critical environments. This evolution of cellular networking technology allows enterprises to deploy dedicated networks that can cater to the most specific business and IoT connectivity needs. It also introduces an added layer of network security to bolster existing security management around mission critical assets.
However, these new mission-critical and enterprise-level networks require a management and service delivery model that shifts control to vertically oriented players, allowing them to deploy and leverage wireless through the use of innovative value-added applications. This represents a significant break from the traditional carrier (cellular) telephony business model, which has consistently maintained control of the public network and its use.
If allowed to develop properly, Private LTE and 5G networks will finally break the lock that wireless carriers have had on cellular networks in Smart Systems applications. Additionally, the key architects of this new network ecosystem will need to understand how to create whole new markets by enabling three critical dimensions:
- Platforms that address the needs of the many and diverse vertical industries;
- Broad product portfolios that include a wide variety of processing, connectivity, security and interoperability capabilities; and
- Diverse alliances and partnerships to enable a wide range of capabilities, including network management, software development tools and vertical application solutions, among others.
THE PROMISE OF PRIVATE LTE and 5G NETWORKS
Traditional public cellular wide-area networks are supported by multiple macro-cell base stations. Private LTE/5G networks, by contrast, are set up like a traditional local area network, using dedicated small cells to support holistic coverage of a site or geographic area. Thus, private cellular networks can offer service-level agreements (SLAs) that guarantee bandwidth and latency for critical communications that are not possible with current Wi-Fi solutions.
Because 5G will predominantly run on a licensed band, its service is interference-free, unlike Wi-Fi. For all these reasons, private networks enable greater coverage, flexibility and management to support evolving needs of all types of enterprises and institutions from industrial manufacturing, mining, and oil and gas, to warehouses, ports and smart cities.
Private Network Services* TAM by Network Type ($ USD Millions)
Source: Harbor Research, Inc.
Additional features and benefits of Private 5G/LTE include:
- Quality of service and predictable latency, configurable in software
- Seamless mobility to support service continuity between small cells
and other networks
- The ability to roam between private and public networks
- Efficient co-existence with other spectrum users such as Wi-Fi
- Higher performance in terms of capacity and throughput, yielding superior payloads than traditional WiFi, similar to WiFi 6
- Fewer required nodes while supporting enhanced interference management capabilities, thereby reducing costs with a greater network footprint per access point
Neutroon’s network management and operational support platform enables communication service providers (CSPs) to easily setup and manage multiple private network solutions offered by different vendors, using different radio technologies, from a single place.
Neutroon’s multi-tenant cloud platform allows CSPs and their customers to set up on-premise COTS servers for edge computing and virtualized Radio Access Networks (RAN), enabling the orchestration of services and applications for high-performance networks including private LTE, private 5G and WiFi.
Neutroon’s NaaS Platform for the Next Wave of Private 5G
Unlike other alternatives on the market, the Neutroon platform makes network slicing extremely simple for customers, and it slices the network end-to-end. A Neutroon network slice comprises dedicated compute resources on the edge, a dynamically provisioned Virtual Private Network (VPN) and dedicated resources on the RAN. This approach ensures quality of service (QoS) across all segments, allowing for deterministic performance, guaranteed SLAs, and minimum disruption due to full network isolation.
INTO THE FUTURE
Smart connected devices are a global and economic phenomenon of unprecedented scale, one that already encompasses billions, and before long trillions, of nodes. Soon, any device that is not networked will rapidly decrease in value, creating even greater pressure to be online. Devices will blend into every venue, and vast opportunities will arise for companies delivering, managing and responding to the rich media and data being generated.
Thus it is sadly ironic to see so many major players in the industrial IoT landscape lagging so far behind—if not being completely out of touch with—the evolving realities. It often seems that only small renegade firms can cut through the fog to bring new markets into being. For this reason we applaud the grit and energy of firms like Neutroon who are determined to fight for a sane future.
Among the upcoming events in Neutroon’s future:
- The firm is closing deals with major system integrators across Europe. You will start seeing the first Neutroon-powered networks during H2 2021.
- Neutroon will do a live demo at Mobile World Congress 21 in Barcelona, where a Private 5G SA will be deployed to provide advanced connectivity for Industrial IoT use cases.
- Neutroon was among the elite startups to be selected for Evonexus, one of the leading 5G accelerators in the world, sponsored by Qualcomm and Verizon.
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This essay is supported by our white paper on Neutroon, “Designing the Future Network of Networks.”
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