What is an Enterprise Network?

Most people are familiar with the wireless technology Wi-Fi as consumers, but less well known is how wireless technology can be used by businesses to create secure data networks, control automation and provide safety for employees working in remote and challenging conditions.

According to Prospecta Utilities Head of Technologies Grant Smith, Enterprise Networks fill the gap between consumer-focused Wi-Fi and the large-scale telecommunications roll outs by carrier networks like Telstra and Optus.

“Most of our familiarity with telecommunications is centred on our use of it as consumers,” he said. “We have our smartphones, laptops and iPads. We use the network to make calls, browse the internet and stream television.

“And large telecommunications carriers build networks to support huge communities.

“The roll out of NBN is great in the suburbs and the cities where there are lots of people, but it doesn’t meet the needs of industries – especially those operating in remote areas that have virtually no people.”

Enterprise Networks fill the gap between a domestic Wi-Fi network and what a commercial carrier can offer to industrial applications in terms of footprint, coverage and speed – particularly in sparsely populated areas.

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What’s changed in telecommunications?

Governments in Australia and all around the world have freed up access to the spectrum which means license costs have come down. And wireless technology has become much cheaper, meaning it is possible to provide reliable, secure, high-speed coverage in remote locations by building a dedicated network.

“Traditionally, it was only telcos that had access to the spectrum,” said Grant. “And, as their focus was providing coverage for populations, it was too difficult and too expensive to provide service to remote areas.

“Now governments have relaxed the regulation about who and how we can use the spectrum and now they’re reducing the cost and freeing up a lot of the spectrum in parts of the country where people need to build Enterprise Networks.”

Some of the remote-location industries that require dedicated connectivity from Enterprise Networks include mining, agriculture, farming, and wind farms.

“Wi-Fi is not going to meet the demand, and the carriers aren’t going to build in those locations because the return on the investment isn’t there,” said Grant.

“Let’s take mining for example: they may have mission critical type use cases where they need to connect autonomous vehicles or remote drilling solutions. They need dedicated on-time high-speed connectivity to be able to monitor and manage and maintain their business remotely and head down the path of digitisation and optimisation of that industry.

“There are any number of industries across the board that could benefit from an Enterprise Network – including logistics and all tiers of government.”

What is the technology available?

The Enterprise Networks created by Prospecta Utilities utilises 4G and 5G as well as the fastest form of 5G called 5G millimetre Wave (5G mmWave).

“4G applications are used mainly in remote locations where there is spectrum and licenses available,” said Grant. “The technology is relatively cheap and covers a large area. If your business just requires internet connection equivalent to the cities, then 4G works really well.

“We’re seeing this being rolled out a lot around wind farms and solar farms in remote locations just to get a corporate-type connectivity in an environment where you normally wouldn’t have it.”

Grant said that Starlink was another possibility but runs into the same issue of relying on a third party or a carrier to provide coverage.

5G is being used in warehousing, logistics, shipping, and transportation – in fact, any industry where you may need higher speeds, and broadband coverage that can support automation and robotics.

“And then there is 5G mmWave, which is the newest of the 5G technologies,” said Grant. “I wouldn’t say it’s replacement for fibre but it’s a complement to the fibre network.

“This technology has seen speeds of up to two gigabits a second over the air towards a device, which is unheard of in the previous technologies. And that’s where you start to be able to connect up autonomous vehicles and track devices in real time.”

“It’s a game-changing type technology in a sense because you no longer need a dedicated fibre network to a Wi-Fi router or modem to be able to get that kind of speed.”

PEN agriculture

Enterprise Networks built for your specific needs

Prospecta Utilities builds Enterprise Networks tailored to their present needs and to future-ready them for new advancements.

“They’re customised to your business case,” said Grant.

“If we’re talking narrow band, low bandwidth requirement that we see a lot in the farming and agriculture space, they can sit over the top as a backhaul network. The advantage in that scenario is that the network is dedicated to you.”

Australia’s telecommunications carriers have experienced major disruptions over the past few years which have severely affected businesses.

“Enterprise Networks are built specifically for you,” said Grant. “Operated and managed by us or for, or by you. And that connectivity is available 100 percent of the time.”

Reliable high-speed connectivity is vital for industries with mission-critical activities that can’t stop, such as the mining industry where many sites are now monitored and managed and maintained remotely.

“And that is difficult if you’re relying on a third-party network to be able to do that,” said Grant.

Private enterprise networks can be establish in a variety of locations

Connectivity concerns around the globe

Getting connectivity to remote locations is seen as a priority by both governments and the telecommunications industry both in Australia and internationally.

“So, focusing on Australia, our biggest issue is coverage,” said Grant. “How do we get coverage out as far as we can so people who want to do business in remote locations have the same access to technology as we do in the cities?

“If we talk about North America and where they’re going with these types of networks, they’re planning to build over a million enterprise networks across North America in the next three to five years, mainly from a security point of view.

“They’re looking at the concerns they’ve got about having three or four major national carriers and the impact of those carriers being hacked from a state-level threat. They’re reducing the risk building sub networks at state and county level and increasing security around their infrastructure and businesses.”

The situation is slightly different in Europe which is better placed because each country has a different network which makes it more difficult to hack and take out an entire country’s telecommunications capability.

Building an Enterprise Network

Building an Enterprise Network is a multi-step process that begins with a site assessment.

“We have to go and look at where the location is,” said Grant. “Are there mountains? Is it flat? What’s the topology in the geography of the network?”

The next step is a spectrum analysis. In Australia, this requires going to the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) to see whether it is possible to attain the spectrum licences for that location.

“We can’t always get the 4G-spectrum licence we need,” said Grant. “In those cases, we look at other technologies such as the 5G mmWave which is more readily available.

“But it has its challenges, and it may not be appropriate for the type of site we’re looking to cover but we’ll always go and look at getting the best possible technology outcome for the business objective that the customer is aiming for.”

Why Wi-Fi doesn’t cut it

In the past, businesses have cobbled together systems using Wi-Fi with multiple routers which is a grossly inefficient method of getting the coverage and speed required, said Grant.

“You’ll get coverage, but you end up having 40 to 50 Wi-Fi routers out there when that network can be covered by one Enterprise Network comprising two 4G radios,” he said.

“That means getting better coverage and a much better economic benefit as well as more flexibility in the kinds of things they can connect to that network.”

Types of Enterprise Networks

Dedicated on-premises solution – Stand-alone

This suits industries with mission critical activities where it would be inadvisable to have part of the network sitting back in a public cloud.

“The benefit of this type of network is if the link back to the internet is broken or doesn’t work, your operations on site are still working without disruption,” said Grant.

“So, if you’re managing, monitoring and maintaining autonomous vehicles or drilling equipment, your network will still operate independently of what’s going on in in the city.”

 

Dedicated on-premises solution – Cloud connected

“The core network part of the network is hosted in a commercial cloud environment and that’s due to regulatory requirements that we have in terms of privacy, security and compliance with the Telecommunications Act,” said Grant.

“The access points are on site, and we manage and maintain multiple devices while connecting to the network. That’s a more traditional approach and the 26 networks that we’re planning to roll out for our client over the next five years have all been designed under that approach.”

 

Shared Core Networks

A subscription-based enterprise network is a new concept that suits industries that only require a small number of radio access points and share the core network.

“The core network is there to manage subscriptions and devices,” said Grant. “Turn devices on, turn devices off, pause devices if they’re using too much data. It will also help prevent theft of equipment and data loss.

“In a dedicated network, you can’t do that because the SIM card won’t work on any other network.”

Shared core networks can have multiple customers located in different parts of the country.

“If you only need one or two access points, it doesn’t make sense to have a dedicated core network and this is where the subscription system makes sense,” said Grant. “And it’s all managed and partitioned for security, but you get the benefit of scale.

Maroochy Quays virtual power plant

Prospecta Utilities’ current projects

GemLife over-50s lifestyle resort location

Far from being theoretical, these Enterprise Networks are being built right now on the Gold Coast, said Grant.

Prospecta Utilities is scheduled to build around 40 networks over the next 10 to 12 years, covering around 14,000 homes in Australia alone for GemLife.

“About a year ago we started assessing the site, we bought the licenses, did the radio design, and have just started building that network,” he said. “And once constructed, we move into operating, managing, and maintaining the network.”

The Enterprise Network offers high-speed connectivity to residents at the residential development.

“They get their internet over the air as opposed to through a fibre,” said Grant. “And we can do that with the 5G mmWave technology.

“What we also do is we create a radio ecosystem so any other device that we want to connect around the resort can be connected.

“We’re looking at everything at some of the locations such as flood monitoring, connecting irrigation systems to have better water and irrigation management, and waste management systems so we know when the bins are full.

“At the other end of the spectrum, we’re looking to the future with autonomous vehicles so the network we’re building today will be future-ready.”