There is an important reason why I didn’t title this blog post, “The death of private radio networks is upon us” or “Why your business will fail if you don’t get off of your Private Radio Data Network".  The reason is simple.....they are far from dead and they are still very effective at what they do.  In fact, private radio technology is being used in all parts of the world every day to transmit valuable voice and data traffic that keeps our societies functioning. 

Instead, this blog post will focus on how cellular data networks have emerged and improved to the point that a surprising amount of organizations are giving up on the idea of using a private network and using cellular data to transmit all of their vital data.  As well, although I am not covering it here, Push-to-Talk (PTT) networks have been taking steady aim at the dominance of Private Radio voice networks for a long time.

There are some unique benefits to using a Private Radio data network (called PRDN going forward) and for a while (early-mid 1990’s), these benefits offered such dramatic improvements over any other offering that was available in the cellular world.  It was to the point that it was not an option for many companies to NOT use a PRDN.

Some of these benefits included:

  • No issues with capacity from users who were not in your organization (cellular networks routinely would become congested during times of emergencies making them a bad option for “First Responders”).
  • PRDN offered a strong competitive amount of data throughput when compared to early cellular networks.
  • PRDN were built on long-proven technologies that most organizations found to be reliable and very trusted.

In the early 2000s, we saw some of the first “First Responder” organizations start to move towards sending some of their data over public cellular networks.  Why did they make the move?  Well, generally, it was for the 7 reasons below.  Over the past decade, each new generation of cellular technologies has brought higher data throughput speeds, lower latency for key applications, better capacity and in many cases, a much lower cost for operation.  In short, what was once a good ROI has now become great ROI – one that most companies have not ignored.

Here are the Top 7 good reasons why the tide is really turning against PRDN:

Cost and expertise of maintaining a network
I have done work with dozens of large Public Safety agencies over the past two decades (having studied Law Enforcement in College, it has always been a strong interest of mine).  I was absolutely amazed at the level of radio knowledge that was both required (and present) at most of these organizations.  As well, it is staggering to see how many millions of dollars many organizations have spent in the deployment of specialized equipment to set up and maintain these PDRN networks.  This would also hold true for organizations in the Oil/Gas, Forestry and Mining areas.  However, companies did not have another viable option many years ago, as they needed to get this valuable information back from the field and there was no other alternative to meet their needs.

About 10 years ago, organizations started to realize that there was a strong business case to off-load much of this radio network management and to deploy cellular technology.

Aside from the cost of the initial setup of a PRDN, there is also:

  • The cost of the on-going maintenance of the infrastructure (upgrading towers/repeaters, firmware updates, new radios.....and of course, replacing antennas when drunk teenagers damage them). 
  • Cost for constant training of staff on latest technologies and the high cost to train a new staff in the event of turnover
  • Cost of a field maintenance staff (whether this is done internally or by contract)

Cellular networks offer incredible benefits in that they:

  • Are managed by someone else who looks after all upgrades and updates, as well as on-going repairs
  • Have incredible geographical footprints (where PRDN have a limited footprint)
  • Are designed with great redundancy (see below)
  • Offer an incredible amount of hardware that is certified to work with the network by the carrier

Speed and latency benefits
Let’s face it....LTE is fast, very fast.  It provides the ability to do much of what you can do on your home/office network (often more) while offering you the flexibility to do it in many places.  Even if there is not currently LTE coverage available where you are, incredible speeds can still be had from EVDO / HSPA networks to allow you to do your business wherever and whenever you need to.  This speed advantage alone is one of the reasons why many organizations are looking to move away from PDRN.  This is even true for organizations that are currently only using these networks for lower traffic applications like SCADA.

You may wonder.....why do you need LTE for SCADA?  Isn’t that like buying a Ferrari when you are only driving it through school zones (i.e. you will never get to use its full capacity, and you could have bought a Fiat instead and had enough money left to buy a small house?)  Many forward thinking organizations do not see it this way, but rather that LTE networks allow your business to be extremely flexible going forward.  While you currently may only use SCADA at that site today, might you wish to use Video surveillance to reduce theft and prevent unnecessary trips to a site at some point in the future?  As well, you may also wish to increase the amount of data that comes from the field, such as adding more parameters to monitor or to allow yourself the flexibility to use the same connection for more than one SCADA device in the future.

As always, let Novotech know how we can help with your M2M needs, such as antenna selection.  You can visit our web page @ www.novotech.com.  As well, feel free to reach out to me directly ....larry(@)novotech.com.  You can also follow us on Twitter (@NovotechM2M) and you can follow me personally as well (@LBNovotechM2M).