When Amazon Web Services (AWS) started looking at getting into the private wireless networking space several years ago, it turned to its own experience setting up private wireless solutions in its warehouses as a starting point.
The process was too long, laborious and complicated, so it set out to change that.
“We really wanted to make it super easy to order, deploy and operate these networks,” explained Jan Hofmeyr, AWS VP of EC2 Edge.
From Day 1, the AWS Private 5G was a self-installed product. A customer places an order through the API console, and AWS ships the necessary antennas and SIM cards, with the customer doing the install without any professional support – “just themselves,” he said.
It’s successfully done that now with myriad customers, including the production team, DDR.Live, at this year’s Lightning in a Bottle (LIB), a music festival held at Buena Vista Aquatic Recreation Area in Bakersfield, California, over the Memorial Day weekend.
DDR.Live approached AWS with an interest in using AWS Private 5G, which operates on Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, to complement their existing Point-to-Multipoint (PTMP) wireless infrastructure. The network needed to support a variety of connections, including Point of Sale (POS) systems.
In previous years, the LIB team used local Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) and PTMP technology to serve the festival site, but it had limitations in performance and coverage, according to this AWS blog.
In addition, “Wi-Fi is a great solution, but there’s use cases where you really need better reliability, higher density – meaning more devices – and bigger coverage areas. Those are three very key things that Wi-Fi really struggles to do,” Hofmeyr told Fierce.
Typically, to get started, the customer is asked a set of questions, such as the size of the area they want to cover and approximately how many devices need to be supported. “We help them think through how many radios they need and then we’ll ship the radios, as well as the SIM cards,” he said.
For the most part, all the customer has to do is connect the radios; AWS will detect and provision the radios and it will show up in their AWS console as a resource they can start using. “Think of it more like how a developer thinks about developing networks and managing them than a traditional isolated system. It feels much more integrated,” he said.
AWS doesn’t reveal the actual suppliers of the radios; it works with various manufacturers and the devices are shipped as AWS devices, he said. AWS uses the General Authorized Access (GAA) portion of the CBRS band, as opposed to the Priority Access Licenses (PALs).
The LIB deployment used five CBRS radios with one spare, which makes it easy for the production company to set up the network for the five-day event and then tear it down and go to the next venue, he said.
Wireless carriers typically ramp up their coverage and capacity for concerts and other events. They also use CBRS, and they’re bullish on the private networking space. So isn’t AWS competing with wireless carriers here? It’s not exactly a new question.
Hofmeyr said the whole addressable market for private wireless solutions is very large, and not everybody would be served by using CBRS, which is shared spectrum versus wireless operators’ licensed spectrum. In the case of the LIB event, the connectivity was mainly to support the production team as opposed to the smartphones of the 20,000 revelers attending the event, although they certainly were served through smooth POS and shorter lines.
“In some cases, you would want to use licensed spectrum, and if they want to use licensed spectrum, then a solution from a telco would be the way to do this,” he said.
Earlier this year, AWS announced its new Integrated Private Wireless program that combines private 4G and 5G wireless technologies from leading telcos with AWS services. T-Mobile was the first U.S. carrier announced in association with that program.
If a customer comes in and looks at the AWS P5G program and they’re good with shared spectrum and it solves their needs, it’s there for them. However, if they need licensed spectrum and roaming, for example, they’ll be referred to the Integrated Private Wireless program. “I do think they serve different roles,” Hofmeyr said.
P5G = 4G + 5G
While it’s called P5G, it supports both LTE and 5G. “It really depends on the devices that the customer uses,” he said. In the case of the Lightning in a Bottle event, it connected using LTE, but some devices also required a traditional Wi-Fi network for connectivity, and gateways were used.
According to the AWS blog, its private wireless infrastructure directly contributed to improvements in the LIB’s guest experience, the IT deployment process and site production progress. Lines at the box office were minimal due to uninterrupted connections to devices, vendors and bars operated smoothly throughout the night and the IT team reported stability in their deployment timeline.
“The ease and reliability of the network infrastructure allowed the team to relax and not have to fight network issues, as everything functioned seamlessly,” AWS wrote. “One of the senior members of the network team said, ‘This is the first time I’ve worked on a team at a music festival where we could relax the first night of the show because everything was functional.’”
A similar experience appears to be happening across the board. Hofmeyr said a customer recently called him shortly after he received his AWS package. “He said to me, ‘I’m calling you from a device that’s connected to your private wireless network that I received two hours ago and I never thought this would ever be possible.’”
Like the DDR deployment, “I’m still amazed if I see what customers do in AWS,” he said. “We have our own ideas of what people will do and they come up with these amazing ideas. It was very exciting for us as a team to see this.”