2020 has been a whirlwind of a year to say the least. However, one positive that has come out during the COVID-19 pandemic is the highlighting of connectivity challenges experienced in various industries across the globe. During this difficult time, many OnGo Alliance member companies offered themselves as a resource — leveraging their own technologies and licenses, and collaborating with other organizations to both address the challenges and mitigate their impacts. We’ve asked our members from a variety of industries to consider their key learnings from this year, and share their predictions on the role CBRS shared spectrum connectivity will have in 2021.
- Healthcare organizations rethink private networks to sustain telehealth operations
Troy Reese, Director – Business Development, Tango Networks: COVID-19 has accelerated the adoption and deployment of technologies to support telehealth operations and accessibility, spurring initiatives such as the FCC’s COVID-19 Telehealth Program. Initiatives such as these will urge all healthcare organizations (e.g. hospitals, clinics) to require reliable, secure connectivity in order to deliver the same level and quality of patient care in a virtual format. However, many hospitals and clinics are currently struggling to provide virtual care for surges in patients with their existing Wi-Fi systems, which are prone to frequent interferences, delaying the efficiency and impacting the quality of patient care. Furthermore, like many other industries, employees within the healthcare industry have found themselves working remotely as a result of COVID — often using their personal, in-home Wi-Fi to access sensitive patient data or remotely monitor patient health status, which pose serious security risks should a personal home network be compromisedIn the next year, healthcare organizations will look to shared spectrum connectivity to provide private LTE networks that ensure secure, reliable connectivity to enhance the virtual patient experience, as well as support mission-critical and day-to-day operations. For instance, shared spectrum connectivity will allow hospitals and clinics to eliminate key telehealth connectivity challenges, such as accessing and processing electronic medical record data, low-quality video and audio conferencing and remotely monitoring medical device data.
- Large-scale patient quarantining forces more agile digital hospital operations
Troy Reese, Director – Business Development, Tango Networks: Although hospital operations have always demanded both immediacy and agility, the severity of COVID-19 has forced healthcare organizations to address agility on a much larger scale. As a result, many hospitals are dynamically morphing because of the compression of their staff, resources and patient bed spaces, which often change daily in an effort to separate positive- and negative-tested COVID patients and protect the hospital environment as much as possible. Such dynamic measures have taken the form of triage tents and testing facilities in hospital parking lots and will continue to evolve in order to provide timely care and communications for patients, while maintaining a physically safe distance.Looking ahead to 2021, a shared spectrum connectivity approach will allow hospitals and clinics to increase the quality and coverage of mission-critical connectivity via either licensed spectrum or unlicensed spectrum. Licensed spectrum will allow a hospital to augment its existing Wi-Fi networks and ensure access to purchased airwaves at all times, whereas unlicensed spectrum will provide augmented connectivity without having to ensure the costly expense of buying airwaves or time, however must accept interference from licensed users.
- Smart healthcare technology save hospital millions in equipment loss annually
Mark S. Reynolds, Associate Director IT, UNM: COVID-19 highlighted the need for hospitals to be better equipped with the necessary technology to provide patient care on a large scale and at a rapid pace. Pre-COVID, hospital staff spent as much as 21 minutes per shift looking for misplaced equipment (e.g. beds, wheelchairs, ventilators). With every second within hospitals being critical — sometimes determining the difference between life and death for a patient — hospital staff cannot afford to spend valuable time that could otherwise be used to tend to patients, trying to locate and track down medical equipment. Additionally, medical equipment often goes missing entirely — estimating a loss of between $4,000–$5,000 worth of equipment per bed annually.In the next year, hospitals will look to leverage private 5G networks to support the monitoring and tracking of smart medical equipment such as syringes, infusion pumps, ultrasound machines, ventilators, cabinets, beds or wheelchairs. However, such real-time asset tracking requires reliable, high-quality connectivity and continuous coverage throughout a facility, which is often not available within hospitals. Shared spectrum will allow hospitals to either supplement their existing Wi-Fi networks or deploy a new private LTE network to provide the necessary connectivity for real-time asset tracking. This will enable hospital staff to track down equipment by providing real-time visibility into a piece of equipment’s location and whether or not it is in use. Additionally, hospital staff will be able to spend more time on providing quality patient care, rather than locating equipment, and hospitals can significantly reduce the amount of money lost per year due to missing equipment.
- Touchless passenger experiences become mainstream
Derek Peterson, CTO, Boingo: Similar to sustained changes to the travel industry after 9/11, the technology solutions and safety measures airports implement now are likely to become the industry standard for the future. As the transportation industry’s recovery stage begins amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, transportation companies will continue to take aggressive steps to ensure the health and safety of passengers and staff. However, the way forward requires sharp focus on preventative measures and operational solutions, requiring advanced wireless technologies, like shared spectrum connectivity, as the common denominator for powering a touchless passenger journey.Wireless technology will become more important than ever in 2021 as it will not only lay the foundation for the connected passenger experience, but also power priority touchless technologies necessary to protect the passengers health and safety of passengers. Additionally, new IoT implementation, expanded wireless coverage and flexible deployment models will help facilitate a more touchless travel experience — helping transportation hubs like airports meet health guidelines and rebuild consumer confidence. Shared spectrum will play a key role in providing the necessary high-quality, secure, reliable and wide-coverage connectivity to support the transportation industry’s transformation and enhanced passenger experience.
Industrial & Agriculture
- Private LTE/5G adoption drives a transformation in converging enterprise wireless networks
Daniel Quant, MultiTech: Industrial enterprises are looking to adopt open and standards-based wireless technologies as a newfound dependence on wireless connectivity to digitize workflows, operational efficiency and production agility escalates. These enterprises, which are often comprised of large vibrant ecosystems of vendors and software providers, are seeking one thing – enterprise mobility and digital transformation that can be managed at scale. With commercial availability of OnGo in 2020, dedicated enterprise wireless networks have never been more scalable and affordable than they will be in 2021. The convergence of privately owned and managed LTE/5G networks is popping up in many industrial market segments, including manufacturing, oil & gas, mining, and automotive, all delivering secure broadband low-latency foundational LTE and 5G wireless coverage. Using shared spectrum, such as OnGo, these types of initiatives will be realized in 2021 at a fraction of the cost and time of acquiring licensed spectrum. OnGo will be the key to many industrial organization’s Enterprise Private Wireless strategy as foundational coverage, much as Ethernet has been for many years, yet far more agile to the fast moving needs of production, chemical plants, oil & gas production, utilities etc.
- Agriculture will be an expected growth area for OnGo in 2021
Dennis Aguilar, Head of Business Development, North America, Quortus: Thanks to the developments in bandwidth throughput of new satellites, 5G and 3GPP Release16, we are on the cusp of some exciting use cases that have not been previously possible with our technology. The government’s recent target of $1billion in funding for 5G deployments in agriculture makes 2021 an important year for innovation. Thanks to this funding, higher bandwidth satellites are now coming online, and backhaul in remote areas is being enhanced. Beyond this, 3GPP Release 16 will allow for increased location and positioning capabilities in agricultural fields, giving an accuracy of centimeters. This increased accuracy and efficiency will provide a huge saving to farmers who will be able to dispense pesticides and fertilizer without waste – a potential saving of millions. Looking at this innovation, so close to the disruption of COVID-19, is incredible. The supply chain last year suffered greatly due to this disruption, and we will continue to see these effects moving forward. The go-to-market for crop commodities will continue to be impacted, and prices will have to increase to satisfy a diminished supply and sustained demand. Higher commodity prices will make investment in this area attractive. Those investment could be in IoT sensors for both indoor and outdoor farming or for autonomous farming. Those who can deliver products to market quickly and efficiently will experience a higher return on their investment. All of these combined factors make a future investment into agricultural IoT a safer bet than it has been before.
- Private LTE deployments will become essential in addressing the digital divide
Ray Sabourin, Business Development Private Wireless Networks US Enterprise, Nokia: COVID-19 highlighted that the Digital Divide was not exclusive to rural areas, as many families in urban areas cannot afford internet connectivity. In addition to distance-learning, the pandemic also introduced the “Homework Gap”, where even students and teachers doing in-person learning experienced a disadvantage when it comes to homework, grading and other after-school assignments due to a lack of internet access.As some districts have already in 2020, in 2021, school district IT managers and administrators will look to further address the Digital Divide and bring broadband access to all their students and teachers through private LTE networks. By doing so, school districts will be able to provide students and teachers with reliable, lower latency and high-quality connectivity, while simultaneously being able to keep all the data traffic within its own secure IP network. This will provide enhanced connectivity for students and staff to complete work and assignments at home — bridging the Homework Gap, as well as ensure a safe virtual learning environment for all — without the possibility of malicious outside network traffic (e.g. Zoom Meeting hacks, ransomware).
- School districts rapidly adopt private LTE networks to address increased network traffic demands as a result of COVID-19
Daniel Quant, Vice President of Strategic Development, MultiTech: Although the K-12 sector was originally an ideal candidate for fixed wireless connectivity, the pandemic has evolved the sector into a larger, more critical wireless connectivity market. As a result, school district IT teams will look to vendors and broadband solution providers to support other use cases in 2021 that go beyond COVID-19, such as school bus security cameras and indoor IoT to help manage building operations (e.g. temperature, lighting). Additionally, as students gradually begin to return to in-person learning, technology will remain an ever-present part of the learning and on-campus experience, as the students and staff on campus use their devices at the same time. Unfortunately, both of these trends place a significant strain on school Wi-Fi, beyond the cases of needing to connect the distance-learning students.In 2021, school districts will look to improve the quality of Wi-Fi connectivity by deploying and using private LTE networks within the 3.5 GHz frequency of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band. By deploying a private network, school districts will be able to off-load school assets (i.e. security surveillance cameras, digital record keeping, etc.) from Wi-Fi in order to free up more bandwidth and lower Wi-Fi network latency for students and staff use. In turn, this will result in a more seamless virtual and in-person learning and teaching experience, as well as increase the efficiency of campus operations.
- Private school district networks will be powered and led by CBRS-enabled smart cities
James Jacobellis, VP of Partners and Business Development, Geoverse: As COVID-19 shifted education from classroom to home-based learning, students without broadband internet access were significantly challenged. As a result, school districts in rural, urban, and suburban locations used their Federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) money to fund student wireless broadband packages that typically included a computer and a connectivity hotspot. That connectivity hotspot was often enabled via a CBRS band wireless signal on a private network.In many of these deployments, city CIO’s have begun to take the lead in closing the digital divide in their home area and are also beginning to use these new CBRS networks as infrastructure for a broader digital transformation. In 2021, we’ll see more and more cities take the lead, including leveraging CARES Act money and school district networks will transition to city led deployments. The primary motivation for this Smart City movement will be to enable innovation, promote job growth and control costs — such as utilities — within a city. Early smart city use cases include IoT networks equipped with real-time analytics for transportation, utilities, parks and streetlights; autonomous and virtual platforms for training and productivity; city and government policy-enforced smartphones and tablets; first responder data terminals, camera’s and license plate readers; and smart vehicles and robotics. In the next year, CBRS-enabled smart cities will expand from a handful in 2020 to several dozen by the end of 2021
- 2021 will see higher demand for Class B CBSDs as a solution to wireless connectivity campus-wide and beyond
Dennis Aguilar, Head of Business Development, North America, Quortus: COVID-19 continues to shape the education industry in unpredictable ways. Universities and colleges are suffering increased infection rates and remote learning fatigue. Students are unable to benefit from a face-to-face learning environment and many lecturers are more susceptible to the virus due to age. 2021 will see higher demand for Class B Citizens Broadband Radio Service Devices (CBSDs) as a solution to wireless connectivity campus-wide and beyond. Traditionally, lower-powered radios have been widely used, built for indoor commercial buildings. But with the effects of the pandemic expected to continue through the next year and these smaller buildings predicted to stay vacant, the demand for higher powered radios is set to increase. The ecosystem of vendors will have to rise to this challenge and take advantage of the 3.5GHz band 48 for this use case for it to function effectively as a private network. Given the fluid changes ongoing in the education industry, flexibility, rather than expediency, will be key. Users will need to be flexible to deploy OnGo networks with a core as may be required, whether in the public or private cloud, private data center or on-premise locally.
2020 has proven that having access to reliable, secure connectivity is critical to efficiently manage day-to-day operations and communications, and will continue to be essential in a post-pandemic world. We look forward to seeing the innovations and collaborations from our members in the next year, as OnGo-enabled connectivity in the CBRS band persists on driving digital transformations forward and improving connectivity and efficiency of nearly every industry nationwide.