The 450MHz cellular band has a long history enabling networks that offer, robust, long-range connectivity and deep signal penetration. This has made it ideal for deployments such as utility metering but now, as 2G networks are retired, this frequency range can be occupied by LTE 450 networks and support IoT devices and critical applications ranging from smart grids to public safety, writes Dominikus Hierl, the senior vice president of sales for EMEA at Quectel Wireless Solutions.
LTE 450 is gaining attention now because of the set of attributes it offers. The 450MHz band is able to support CAT-M (LTE-M) and narrowband-IoT (NB-IoT) technologies and the physics of the band are well-suited for large area coverage, which has enabled cellular providers to offer blanket coverage cost effectively. Comprehensive coverage demands lower power consumption by IoT devices so they can remain connected and the deeper penetration means devices can easily connect to a network without energy draining repeated attempts. With national networks already rolled out in some countries, the arrival of CAT-M and NB-IoT have reinvigorated uptake and usage of the 450MHz band.
The 450MHz range has been utilized for many years in public and private networks, predominately in Europe. The authorities in Germany have, for example, recently awarded the 450MHz spectrum to the energy sector. Increasingly, legislation is making remote control of critical energy network elements mandatory. In Germany alone, millions of network elements are waiting to be connected and 450MHz spectrum is perfectly suited for this. Other countries are about to follow, deploying even more rapidly.
After a long time in the shadows, the 450MHz frequency range is now becoming the backbone to control and manage critical infrastructure such as transformers, transport nodes and smart meter gateways for supervising meter networks. 450 MHz networks are built as private networks protected by firewalls to the outside world and this provides security from cyberattacks. As the 450MHz spectrum is assigned to private operators, it will mainly serve the needs of the critical infrastructure operators such as utilities and distribution network owners.
The main uses here will be made by routers and gateways to connect the network elements, as well as by smart meter gateways for critical measuring points. The focus by the energy industry is on stable technology from reliable suppliers. Aspects such as the radio performance are of most interest as well as cybersecurity for the new devices.
Research firm, SNS Telecom & IT, estimates that annual investments in public safety LTE/5G-ready infrastructure will surpass US$2 billion by the end of 2020, mainly driven by new build-outs and the expansion of existing dedicated and hybrid commercial-private networks in a variety of licensed bands across 420/450MHz, 700MHz, 800MHz, 1.4GHz and higher frequencies. Complemented by a rapidly expanding ecosystem of public safety-grade LTE/5G devices, the market will further grow at a CAGR of approximately 10% between 2020 and 2023, eventually accounting for more than US$3 billion by the end of 2023, the firm says.
Critical communications are a growing market that is increasingly mandated by law as nations battle to improve their environmental footprints, secure their energy supplies and protect the safety of their citizens. Authorities need to be able to manage critical infrastructure, emergency responders need to co-ordinate their activities and power utilities need to be able to control the electricity grid. In addition, growth in smart city applications requires resilient networks to support large numbers of important applications.
These are no longer just about addressing emergency response needs, critical communications networks are routine, continuously utilized infrastructure and achieving this demands the attributes of LTE 450 in terms of low power demand, comprehensive coverage and the throughput of LTE that supports audio and video streaming.
The expanding LTE 450 ecosystem
The ecosystem around LTE 450 is growing rapidly with increasing numbers of devices, modules and antennas becoming available. Quectel Wireless Solutions has been developing IoT modules for more than a decade and these include its BG95-M4multi-mode LPWA module which supports LTE Cat M1/Cat NB1/Cat NB2 and integrated GNSS and which meets the 3GPP Release 14 specification. Quectel also produces the CAT 1 LTE module EC200S-EN as well as a range of antennas to support LTE 450.
The 450MHz band has been a sleeping giant, set aside for utilisation for critical communications during the 2G and 3G eras. Now, the giant is waking as LTE-M and NB-IoT arrive and position LTE 450 as a compelling network for energy and mission critical IoT applications.