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5G Private Networks Help Shape a New Economy – Socially Distant or Not

Oct. 2020 – Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas 

With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to affect the world in 2020, we are living through an historical moment that is demanding new ways of doing business. In with Cisco WebEx, Zoom, and Microsoft Teams – and out with the large in-person meetings, events, town halls, and conferences that companies big and small used to host.

But more than just remote meetings, enterprises everywhere are amid a major re-think of the way they conduct their entire business. Necessity is the mother of invention, and the time of necessity is upon us. Clearly as a species, we cannot forever thrive with physical distancing alone. After all, who (or what) will grow our food and make the things we need to keep going, while we are locked away in our remote home offices chit-chatting with our co-workers? There is so much to be done!

Who’s making the widgets while we’re on this video call?

As digital transformation takes center stage, companies look for ways to conduct their business in an era that drives a premium for those who know how to scale and automate their organizations and supply chain ecosystems to manage the massive amounts of integrated networked data, real-time intelligence and analytics – all with secure and robust reliability.

Enter the 5G era. In previous generations of wireless cellular, providing enterprises with individual types of service connectivity had always been a bit of a challenge due to the extremely different business requirements that each company had. While the underlying challenges of those very specific use cases have not changed, a new generation of 5G technology is beginning to provide the tools that combine the right speed necessary for a staggering volume of data, ultra-low latency precision, superior coverage, and robust security demanded by today’s enterprises.

A new white paper from 5G Americas entitled, “5G Technologies in Private Networks” focuses on how 5G private networks and their specific architectures become particularly suited to different kinds of applications. The paper also identifies industry drivers, trends, and considerations for deploying private networks.

In the paper, we see that private networks, or ‘non-public networks’, have been gaining tremendous momentum across numerous industries that require use cases in automation, IoT, AR/VR and for new communication services for many enterprise scenarios. In fact, private networks have become one of the telecom industry’s most promising growth sectors with analysts estimating it to become a multi-billion-dollar industry in the next five years.

5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 3‑1 List of Enterprise Requirements

The reason why there is such broad applicability of 5G across such a wide range of industries lies in 5G’s ability to provide a wide variety of different spectrum bandwidths that are ideal for a staggering number of different use cases. Indeed, it is this flexibility that provides advantages for industries that have become a major driving factor for the Industrial IoT. Let’s take a look at what that means.

In general, enterprises are typically concerned with network management around three key areas: coverage and control, performance and reliability, and operational flexibility and integration.

Depending on the enterprise, industry or use case, there are different degrees needed of those three factors listed above. For instance, in a retail or wholesale setting, it might not be necessary to need exacting real-time control at ultra-low latencies. However, in healthcare, there are use cases like remote surgery where having millisecond latencies are literally life or death. And while most surgical tables aren’t mobile, most vehicles in a complex transportation network are – and those need a vast amount of network coverage to ensure connectivity over thousands of miles of road.

Some industries, like public and enterprise venues, will expect to be using a tremendous amount of video data – so will need the capabilities of 5G enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB) to unleash those capabilities. Others, like warehousing, may need the ability to manage many hundreds of thousands of individual SKU’s in complex inventorying scenarios and flexibly integrate into an existing IT structure that involves RFID tags, QR codes, or other common inventory management technologies.

5G private networks provide enterprises with capabilities that meet stringent business requirements in terms of latency, reliability, and high accuracy with positioning. This is possible because 5G architectures provide:

  • increased data capacity
  • a split control user plane of RAN and core networks, that allows localized control of data to happen closer to where the application is being used
  • unified and programmable user planes for more agile application management and development
  • user equipment and session context storage of unstructured data to better understand the needs of an application
  • service based architecture design of the 5G core
  • edge and fog computing with content awareness

Indeed, as all these capabilities are brought to bear, a crowning achievement of 5G will be its ability to provide “network slicing” across both public and private networks. Network slicing is really about the ‘end-to-end’ management the entire network’s resources, from end-user device to radio interface, to transport network, to data center, and integration with an organization’s data lake to provide just the right amount of spectrum and network resources to fulfill the needs of the use case.

All of this synchronization and automation requires an amazing amount of orchestration and management across multiple networks. It must all work seamlessly and flawlessly (well up to nine nines – 99.9999999% – flawlessly). Any technology capable of handling that must operate at a very high level of execution in the demands of today’s modern private networks.

5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 4‑1 Private Network – Use Cases

How is 5G able to achieve this remarkable level of interoperability?

5G private networks interoperate well with operator networks because 5G is designed to work in one of two modes: Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN) mode for operators and Non-Public Network (NPN) mode intended for vertical domains like large businesses, shopping malls, hot spots or special events, or Industrial IoT. 5G networks, therefore, can work as both isolated private networks as well as in tandem with that of a large mobile network operator (MNO).

Option 1. NPN Mode: Isolated Private Networks. 5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 4.4

Option 2. PLMN and NPN Mode: Private Networks in conjunction with a macro network, 5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 4.5

Of course, a great deal of detail goes into making these modes work for all the different types of usages and scenarios that will be created in today’s modern enterprises. Companies are naturally hesitant about where to put their investment dollars, for such a major digital transformation undertaking. However, if history is any judge, victory often goes to the innovators that take the calculated risks to secure the long-term future of their companies.

Today, those innovators are already taking the first step with the recent Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum auction in July 2020 in the United States. 5G private networks based on mid-band CBRS spectrum (3.55 – 3.7 GHz band) are providing enterprises with key opportunities in the development of 5G private networks in the US. This is a critical spectrum band, as 3.55 – 3.7 GHz is widely considered globally to be a key mid-band spectrum property, due to its excellent propagation capabilities in terms of both coverage and capacity.

However, private network operators should be aware CBRS involves real-time dynamic spectrum access in a three-tiered system that is managed by the FCC and third-party certified vendors. CBRS is providing an interesting initial test case for mid-band spectrum use in the United States, as enterprises and campuses look to mobilize their organizations in a 5G world. This extra level of dynamic spectrum access management will provide an extra layer of complexity compared to that provided by network operators who operate on purely licensed non-shared exclusive use spectrum bands.

5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 3‑3 CBRS 3550-3700 MHz Spectrum Framework

Another aspect of 5G technologies that enterprises should consider are the incredible robust security enhancements that 5G brings to the table. While many of these security improvements over 4G LTE are written about in Security Considerations for the 5G Era, integrity, confidentiality, and privacy are primary requirements for 5G systems. 5G networks are architected to provide options for scalability, solution OPEX, and flexibility for life-cycle management. Some of these improvements include:

  • Secure infrastructure with zero trust aspects of some network elements
  • Network Public/Private Key Pairing
  • Subscriber User Public Identities
  • Subscription Permanent Identifiers
  • Multiple Authentication Methods and Credentials
  • PLMN and NID Network Identifiers
  • Network Slicing, Slice instances & associated identifiers
  • Data Network Name identifiers
  • Closed Access Groups
  • Tracking Area Identifiers
  • Anti-Bidding Down Between Architecture parameters

Finally, private networks provide opportunities and challenges for a variety of different players when it comes to 5G networks. There is room here for many different entities who can – and should – work together to ensure the best result for the user. From the enterprise, infrastructure providers, service providers, managed services, application providers, enterprise solution providers, as well as emerging players involving real estate asset management and capital structures – there is enough to be done to make 5G private networks successful. The private network applications and services pie is indeed very large, so enterprise IT decision-makers should keep in mind the level of organizational complexity of managing this number of different partners in the process of their 5G digital transformation.

5G Technologies in Private Networks, Figure 7‑2 Summary of Different Player Capabilities and Potential Enterprise Solutions

As we roll into the waning days of 2020, I can safely say that this year has thrown us all more curveballs than in any given year in recent memory. It’s not often that a global pandemic sweeps through the world economy, once in a century maybe?  Let’s hope it stays that way. But through it all, our wireless cellular industry has sustained a very high level of commitment and investment to making 5G technology a success. And we aren’t slowing down as we look to the future.

I truly do believe 5G is a cornerstone technology of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. It simply has so much going for it. It’s simply too central to the other emerging technologies of the age like AI, VR/AR, drones, autonomous vehicles, and robotics – and applicable to too many of today’s and tomorrow’s industries to be ignored.

Wherever enterprises go, whether with public networks, private networks, neutral hosts, or hybrid deployments, 5G will be an important choice to consider. It’s best to start now and be a 5G innovator, rather than a laggard.


More Information on 5G in Private Networks

See how emerging 5G technologies will deliver very high speed data, along with the ultra-low latency, and massive management of IoT devices that today's modern enterprises demand.

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