Motorola taps freed-up wireless spectrum for enterprise LTE networks

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is developing. Out of the gate, Motorola is creating a land mobile radio (LMR) system that includes enterprise-level, voice handheld devices and fast, private data networks.

Motorola taps CBRS spectrum to create private broadband LMR system
Jiraroj Praditcharoenkul / Getty Images

In a move that could upend how workers access data in the enterprise, Motorola has announced a broadband product that it says will deliver data at double the capacity and four-times the range of Wi-Fi for end users. The handheld, walkie-talkie-like device, called Mototrbo Nitro, will, importantly, also include a voice channel. “Business-critical voice with private broadband data,” as Motorola describes it on its website.

The company sees the product being implemented in traditional, moving-around, voice communications environments, such as factories and warehouses, that increasingly need data supplementation, too. A shop floor that has an electronically delivered repair manual, with included video demonstration, could be one example. Video could be two-way, even.

The product takes advantage of upcoming Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. That’s a swath of radio bandwidth that’s being released by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in the 3.5GHz band. It’s a frequency chunk that is also expected to be used heavily for 5G. In this case, though, Motorola is creating a private LTE network for the enterprise.

The CBRS band is the first time publicly available broadband spectrum has been available, Motorola explains in a white paper (pdf) — organizations don’t have to buy licenses, yet they can get access to useful spectrum: A tiered sharing system, where auction winners will get priority access licenses, but others will have some access too is proposed by the FCC. The non-prioritized open access could be used by any enterprise for whatever — internet of things (IoT) or private networks.

Motorola's pitch for using a private broadband network 

Why a private broadband network and not simply cell phones? One giveaway line is in Motorola’s promotional video: “Without sacrificing control,” it says. What it means is that the firm thinks there’s a market for companies who want to run entire business communications systems — data and voice — without involvement from possibly nosy Mobile Network Operator phone companies. I’ve written before about how control over security is prompting large industrials to explore private networks more. Motorola manages the network in this case, though, for the enterprise.

Motorola also refers to potentially limited or intermittent onsite coverage and congestion for public, commercial, single-platform voice and data networks. That’s particularly the case in factories, Motorola says in an ebook. Heavy machinery containing radio-unfriendly metal can hinder Wi-Fi and cellular, it claims. Or that traditional Land Mobile Radios (LMRs), such as walkie-talkies and vehicle-mounted mobile radios, don’t handle data natively. In particular, it says that if you want to get into artificial intelligence (AI) and analytics, say, you need a more evolving voice and fast data communications setup.

Industrial IoT uses for Motorola's Nitro network

Industrial IoT will be another beneficiary, Motorola says. It says its CBRS Nitro network could include instant notifications of equipment failures that traditional products can’t provide. It also suggests merging fixed security cameras with “photos and videos of broken machines and sending real-time video to an expert.”

Motorola also suggests that by separating consumer Wi-Fi (as is offered in hospitality and transport verticals, for example) from business-critical systems, one reduces traffic congestion risks.

The highly complicated CBRS band-sharing system is still not through its government testing. “However, we could deploy customer systems under an experimental license,” a Motorola representative told me.

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