In less than four years of commercial availability, 4G LTE has already changed life for U.S. consumers and corporations. According to 4G Americas, LTE subscriptions in North America totaled 115 million through the first quarter of 2014, accounting for almost half of the worldwide total (245 million through March).
More growth is ahead as LTE matures into more than just a fast data pipe. Operators are hard at work on software-defined networking, network functions virtualization and voice-over-LTE, with Verizon even expecting the first all-LTE phone to arrive in early 2016.
Moreover, LTE is becoming a fixture of commercial operations and enterprise infrastructure. Industries as varied as professional sports and mining have realized LTE’s benefits. Plus, organizations are using it for efficient, secure remote site management through appliances such as the Opengear ACM5500 Gateway. With LTE-Advanced on the horizon, super-fast cellular is set to continue remaking business in the U.S. and beyond.
How LTE improved communications at a remote mining site
Wireless connectivity is increasingly critical to ensuring smooth communication between remote and primary sites. In the past, branch offices were often saddled with substandard network infrastructure that posed risks to business continuity, but LTE has opened up fresh possibilities for monitoring and traffic management, offering tangible gains over legacy systems and technologies.
The mineral mining industry’s ongoing technological makeover is a case in point. Mine operators once relied heavily on satellite and local radio networks to manage equipment at far-flung sites. LTE is a step up because it is reliable, with a growing footprint and excellent spectrum utilization, fast and relatively inexpensive by way of a mobile data plan. In Australia, one of the world’s leading mining nations, LTE download speeds averaged more than 24 Mbps in early 2014, for example.
In mining and in other industries, relying on LTE allows for simplified infrastructure, without the complicated management of multiple wireless standards and modems. Mining in particular has also benefited from LTE-enabled monitoring and control of driverless trucks equipped with HD video cameras, underscoring LTE’s potential for the remote site management of robots and other automated systems. Overall, LTE is a big leap forward from 3G and current Wi-Fi.
“An LTE mobile network deployed on a remote site gives mining companies complete coverage of their site and also the ability to prioritize traffic over the network – a big increase in the quality of service that 3G or Wi-Fi was able to deliver previously,” explained David Swift for Wilson Street. “This prioritization means companies can, for example, give vital production and site safety data precedence over corporate communications traffic.”
In a 2013 report on disruptive technologies, McKinsey cited mobile Internet like LTE as potentially the most transformative of the bunch, with an economic impact of up to $11 trillion per year by 2025. Already, it can make an enormous difference for enterprises by serving as an option for quick, secure out-of-band (non-Internet-based) access to infrastructure, reducing the mean time to repair and preserving business continuity.