U.S. operator AT&T and professional services company Accenture are working with the American multinational energy company Phillips 66 to create industrial mobile wireless connectivity via the development of a private mobile network platform. The platform will lay the foundation for potential future 5G use, including support for Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) and low-latency applications. Phillips 66 invited Accenture to address mobile performance gaps with its existing public mobile network near one of its refineries in Belle Chasse, Louisiana.
The private mobile network was selected as a proof of concept to demonstrate the ability to handle increased mobile connectivity needs from the ongoing Phillips 66 digital transformation initiatives. The proof-of-concept private network was designed from the ground up to address Phillips 66’s industrial digital requirements. AT&T was selected as the telecommunications provider to create the necessary engineering for a dedicated mobile network platform, using multi-access edge compute across licensed spectrum.
Despite the great strides being made in mobile network technology, including 5G, there are circumstances in which normal public networks do not fully meet the needs of enterprise customers. For heavy-industry companies such as Phillips 66, which rely on constant communication between workers on oil refineries and other large installations, as well as IoT applications, a private mobile network may be a better solution. Free of interference and potential narrowing of bandwidth due to other users, a private network delivers greater reliability and high-quality connectivity.
In consultation with Accenture, Phillips 66 decided to choose AT&T as its MNO partner in developing such a network. And while the project is still in the proof-of-concept phase, Phillips has described the results as “promising.” At present, the solution is filling in gaps in coverage; in future, it can be extended to include IIoT and 5G applications. Phillips also expects it to be expanded to include other locations within the company’s ecosystem.
For major mobile operators like AT&T, such special projects represent a very lucrative and exciting opportunity. Developing a private network for a large enterprise of course brings in significant revenue, in terms of project fees and future network usage charges, but it also allows the operator to explore possibilities for innovation that may not at present be affordable or even possible for a public network. In essence, a private network may be a laboratory of sorts for the development and testing of possibilities that one day will be made more widely available.