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LTE micro networks open up new opportunities and offer connectivity anywhere – even in a mine

LTE micro networks, which are particularly suited for industrial needs, are gradually finding their way from pilot projects to production. The technology provides the industrial sector with new kinds of opportunities, excellent availability and a high level of information security.

An LTE micro network means bringing mobile phone technology to individual sites, such as an industrial facility or a mine, in the form of compact base stations. The end result is a local private network that is not part of the public mobile phone network.

In practice, the technology offers connectivity anywhere and particularly in places where it would be impossible to achieve otherwise. A good example of such places are mines, where data transfer has traditionally been a problem.

“One such application could be, for example, the vibration measurement of a rotating paper machine roll, which must be carried out using a wireless method,” says Etteplan’s Technology Director Jaakko Ala-Paavola.

According to Ala-Paavola, LTE micro networks are a major step forward, as it has previously not been possible to install a base station at an individual plant – at least not at a reasonable cost.

An LTE micro network is ideal for locations that, for some reason, require large data transfer capacity, a short data transfer delay and a dependable connection.

A micro network also stands out from the perspective of information security. When a data communications back-end system can be implemented on site, data never actually has to leave the plant. If the user so wishes, the internet can be excluded entirely from the process.

The technology also makes it possible to switch the terminal devices from the private network to the public network and back, which is a valuable advantage. So, if the application site happens to be moving, it can switch to using the public network as it leaves the coverage area of its dedicated network.

In terms of their architecture, LTE micro networks are an evolutionary step on a path that will eventually lead to 5G technology. In other words, an LTE micro network system can later be transformed into a fully-fledged 5G system by simply updating its radio interface.

Pioneering a brand new technology

LTE micro networks are an entirely concept, and the technology has only recently entered into the market. This does not mean, however, that Etteplan cannot be considered an expert in the technology.

“We have collaborated closely with Nokia, the leading developer of the technology,” says Ala-Paavola. “In addition, we have had an LTE micro network base station in R&D use in Finland for about a year.”

According to Ala-Paavola, Nokia has been active and located its product development and pilot in Finland, a pioneer in the field. This spring, Nokia, which has so far been focussing on pilot projects, has taken the LTE micro networks to production use.

“Only time will tell to what extent the LTE micro networks will be utilised in the industrial sector. However, we at Etteplan firmly believe that industrial operators will eventually find the micro networks. So indisputable are the benefits they offer and so numerous are their potential applications.”

Jaakko Ala-Paavola, Etteplan’s Technology Director

In Finland, Nokia sells LTE micro network solutions as a turnkey service directly to end users. However, as radio frequencies are licensed, the service provider needs to have a partner operator with a radio licence in each country to be able to offer the service. In Finland, Nokia’s partner is Ukkoverkot.

Etteplan is strongly involved: we are a close partner, integrator, solution provider and device developer.

As the concept is so new and equally unknown to all players, we are currently focussing on presenting to our customers the various potential applications and the host of benefits that the LTE micro networks can offer in each of them.

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Jaakko Ala-Paavola
Jaakko Ala-Paavola
Technology Director