5G was certainly the darling of MWC 2019 in Barcelona last week, including flagship 5G smartphone reveals, new 5G equipment pacts, and demos galore. However, Ruckus VP of Product Marketing Mark Davis says the next-gen wireless technology won’t completely take over in the 5G era, as many people think.
Instead of a replacement to existing technologies, Davis says the 5G era will be an expansion of the current reality, which includes “many different wireless technologies that coexist in a complimentary fashion” to suit a particular set of use cases. This is especially true for enterprise, he said.
5G has been touted for industrial use cases, among others and Davis acknowledged that in terms of critical applications like massive industrial automation and robotics using thousands of sensors requiring ultra-low latency, “maybe then we’re into a realm where there’s a clear distinction that [5G] is the only thing that could be used.”
But Davis contends that it’s still “far in the future” and a relatively “narrow set of applications.” When it comes to typical office spaces, he doesn’t see WiFi (with powerful next-gen Wi-Fi 6) going away.
“WiFi is the defacto wireless LAN standard, has been for the last 15 years and an entire industry has been built around it,” Davis said. “IT departments know how to manage a wireless LAN, and there’s absolutely zero reason to think that that would change.”
He says technologies including LTE, WiFi and Bluetooth or Zigbee already exist to address certain needs. For example, Bluetooth and related technologies are able to address energy-saving sensors for lighting, heating, or locks. When it comes to places that require a more reliable connection or WiFi isn’t ideal, like hospitals or mobile kiosks at large public venues or airports, Davis says LTE can serve those use cases.
The second component to the LTE picture for use in an enterprise environment is CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) spectrum, which has recently been cleared by the FCC.
With CBRS, enterprises have a way where they can get a little piece of spectrum for nominal charge to use in their own location and deploy it themselves in the same way as WiFi, Davis said.
“You won’t see uptake in the enterprise if it isn’t comparably similar to deploy as WiFi,” Davis said.
Ruckus last week announced a partnership with Federated Wireless and Syniverse, launching a private LTE network using CBRS spectrum at Syniverse’s Innovation Lab, for enterprise uses. Federated provided its SAS Spectrum Controller, Syniverse provides the evolved Packet Core, and Ruckus contributed its LTE access points (also known as small cells).
“CBRS marks a new era in mobile services, which makes it easier and less expensive for businesses to meet demanding application requirements,” said Joel Lindholm, Vice President, LTE Business, Ruckus Networks, in a statement. “A private LTE network enables secure applications, including tablets and handhelds in healthcare environments, transmission of user data in smart meters, and IoT-connected devices in remote areas. Together, we’re opening up compelling new use cases that only private LTE networks can effectively address.”
Davis indicated poor in-building cellular coverage is a universal pain where a private LTE network can address coverage, but be managed in exactly the same way as WiFi.
The LTE component of Ruckus’ LTE portfolio that works in CBRS and other similar bands will evolve to 5G over time, Davis says, but 5G’s absence is not “a blocker” for many use cases. He used the example of an unmanned vehicle moving around a tarmac at an airport that needs both low latency and wide coverage, served by private LTE.
Touting the WiFi device ecosystem and freely used unlicensed spectrum, Davis acknowledged that Ruckus is fine with 5G being put into unlicensed spectrum through the 3GPP standard, referred to as 5G NR-U, if it’s relevant to the enterprise, but says it will remain a complimentary technology.
Davis said there are a collection of use cases that benefit from 5G in unlicensed 6 GHz, but pointed to the device universe, which would need broad support.
“It’s more costly to embed LTE or 5G of any flavor just because it has a set of royalties that go along with it…in a way that is substantially greater than WiFi,” he noted. “But it’s part of a tapestry across these bands of spectrum that we think will persist forever.”