Can a private wireless network be deployed to provide communications at a construction site and then be turned over to building owners and managers to provide operational and tenant connectivity? That possibility is one of the many use cases the enterprise market is exploring for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.
A Connect (X) All Access virtual session sponsored by the CBRS Alliance explored the ways this new spectrum opportunity has opened doors for the private sector to leverage new capacity and how that capacity can transition during the life of a building or venue. The panel, moderated by Tim Downs, Executive Producer of Connect (X), included insights from Todd Landry, Corporate Vice President, Product and Market Strategy, JMA Wireless; Mike O’Rourke, Senior Design Phase Manager at Mortenson Construction; and Brendan Delaney, Director, In-Building Wireless, Advanced Network Services (ANS).
The panel, titled “Enterprise Private Cellular Networks: Early Adopters & Use Cases” is available on demand, along with other content, at https://connectxallaccess.vfairs.com/en/hall#auditorium-section
The three companies represented on the panel – a solutions provider, a customer and an integrator — have worked together in their various capacities to deploy CBRS networks at large construction sites, including the new Las Vegas Raiders stadium in Nevada and American Dream retail and entertainment complex in the Meadowlands Sports Complex in East Rutherford, New Jersey. The panelists envision transitioning those CBRS networks at completion of the construction phase of the projects to the building owners to use for operational communications or public-facing tenant connectivity.
“We think CBRS is going to be an awesome tool initially for our job site communications,” said O’Rourke. “When you think of building a very large building, communications is a very important part of it, and historically it’s been very challenging to actually have that work, which sounds sort of ridiculous. For instance, at the Raiders stadium, it’s right across the freeway from the Vegas strip and using Wi-Fi in that environment was terrible because there’s too much Wi-Fi interference there. We’re really looking at CBRS as being a giant leap in job site communications, adding high-speed data that really wasn’t necessarily out there.”
Delaney echoed that experience, saying the American Dream project ran into similar communications challenges due to a crowded RF environment with nearby MetLife Stadium. The complex needed connectivity for vehicle management signs but found a fiber project that would have taken more than 10 months and cost up to $7 million to be prohibitive. ANS connected the signs using a wireless network in 4 months and for a fraction of the cost, he said.
“In a complex network environment that you see in a crowded suburban space like a strip or in an urban environment or an enterprise environment where there are a lot of network needs and a lot of different stakeholders in that network, your Wi-Fi network can get overwhelmed with the different use cases, and where the LTE steps in is that quality of service you can guarantee across that network which will form all sorts of new use cases,” said Delaney.
O’Rourke outlined a variety of use cases for construction site CBRS networks, including traditional push-to-talk communications, Wi-Fi hotspot capabilities that will allow tablets to download building drawings, and 3D building modeling, which requires a lot of bandwidth. COVID-19 has accelerated the need for some of these capabilities, particularly allowing inspection work to be done remotely through video to ensure social distancing. During its work on the Seattle Center, a multi-purpose arena and campus near the Space Needle, Mortenson is testing a CBRS system that uses Microsoft HoloLens mixed reality technology deployed beneath hard hats worn on site to facilitate remote inspections, said O’Rourke.
“A person that’s anywhere in the world can be looking at what they are looking at and deciding if that’s quality enough of a weld joint or if the concrete looks good or not and really minimizing the number of people we have to have on the jobsite,” said O’Rourke. “We were looking at using RFID to connect with CBRS to track all the materials that come in and out of a building. As you can imagine when you are building an almost 2 million square foot building, you can lose a lot of stuff on a daily basis, and if we can track all that stuff much more accurately, it would just make everything more efficient.”
Everyone on a jobsite, including building owners, tend to imagine all kinds of use cases for CBRS once they get a first glimpse of what it can facilitate. Delaney said the sign management system at American Dream led to connected high-definition cameras for vehicle counting, LIDAR systems for speed control, and parking point of sale applications. Lighting controls and other automation systems across the 600-acre campus will roll over to the system as well, he said. Eventually CBRS systems can be sold or given to the venue or building owner for facility communications and tenant connectivity, the panelists said.
“We really expect that the owners will see how amazing this system works and want that for themselves and ideally we’d want to hand this over to them at the end of every project and have all of our customers on this because we really think that it’s a game changer,” said O’Rourke. “Everybody is making all kinds of interesting CBRS devices that will enable things that people really never thought of — all the internet of things that will be able to be run on it. We really think it’s going to be a huge game changer.”
Making the system easy to use and deploy will be key to elevating the value proposition of CBRS for building owners and their IT staff, who are already taxed with managing multiple complex radio and computer systems, the panelist said.
“We need to make it an easy button for the enterprise to push to allow them to both deploy a construction-based network and then make it easy and simple for that network to then be handed off to the day 2 operations of the enterprise and the facility,” said Delaney. “As more phones are coming out with (CBRS) in them, you’ll see more adoption by the end users, which are the people coming into the facility whether it’s an enterprise building or venue. You’ll be able to do more with the network and the spectrum in terms of slicing it both for internal purposes as well as external purposes and sharing with other network providers.”
The panelists agreed that education and awareness remain the primary challenges for CBRS in the enterprise space. Landry said in some cases building owners and IT staff have not heard of CBRS but many of them have and are actively engaged with trying to figure out how they can use it to expand on Wi-Fi capabilities they are familiar with. The industry, he said, has a responsibility to move that awareness forward.
“We have to understand that we’ve been given, as an industry, access to a substantial amount of spectrum, and really the FCC is looking at how our industry adopts this opportunity to leverage the spectrum and to turn it into something that can contribute overall to industry and to GDP,” said Landry. “We’d be remiss if we did not execute on every possible use of the available spectrum and only use small chunks of it for some reason. I think we are off to a good start with some of the applications certainly we are working on with Brendan and Mike here and many more, so it’s an exciting time and I look forward to what it’s going to look like as we do some of these in the next year or two.”