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The Future is Bright for 5G in the Enterprise

Chris Pearson, President, 5G Americas – January 2023

The post-pandemic world may already be in the midst of an irrevocable shift in the way people do business. Since 2020, patterns of work have changed for billions around the world due to public health restrictions, supply chain constraints, and workforce mobility. Work-from-home and distributed, de-centralized workforces are now the norm for many large organizations, which continues to underscore the need for mobile communications – specifically cellular networks in the enterprise.

A major trend occurring in enterprises today involves the deployment of private cellular networks. In addition to the public networks offered by mobile network operators (MNOs), private cellular networks are emerging as a driving force for connectivity. Indeed, according to MarketsandMarkets, the private LTE market size is expected to grow from USD 5.0 billion in 2022 to USD 8.3 billion by 2027 at a compounded annual growth rate of 10.6% while private 5G is expected to reach USD 8.75 billion by 2027, with a much steeper CAGR of 38.5% according to MarketDigits.

In 5G Americas’ latest white paper, Enterprise Evolution with 5G Adoption, we take a deeper look into how organizations are deploying private 4G and moving to private 5G (P5G), with an eye on trends and evolutions in the marketplace. We examine how organizations are today supported by many building solutions and numerous offers from vendors across almost all industry verticals. This white paper builds on previous work from 5G Americas that touches on Private & Enterprise Networks and 5G Technologies in Private Networks.

Today’s enterprises have a plethora of connectivity options. From Ethernet to Wi-Fi, Bluetooth, passive optical networks (PON), hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC), there are a staggering number of both “access technologies” that connect the end-user’s device alongside the “transport” technologies that bring the data to the local access point. With such an array of different technologies available, it becomes increasingly important for enterprise IT architects to determine how the data will be used. Such “use cases” will ultimately drive the decision-making around which technologies are the best fit for the business’ needs. Fortunately, today, private cellular companies are continuing to develop new ways to interoperate and align with non-cellular technologies.

Enterprise Evolution with 5G Adoption Figure 1: Topics under development related to Enterprise adoption of private cellular

Compared to other access technologies, 5G networks offer three main strengths:  1) data throughput potentially up to 10 gigabits per second, which is 10-100 times faster than 4G LTE 2) network latency that is potentially below 10 milliseconds and theoretically as low as 1 millisecond, offering incredibly precise timing capabilities and 3) management of up to 1 million devices per square kilometer, allowing placement of a staggering number of IoT sensors and devices in very high density on an enterprise campus or factory floor.

It is the combination of these three capabilities, when measured against the legacy and operational requirements of an enterprise, which places private 5G networks on the forefront of interest for many of today’s top business, operations and IT decision-makers.

At the same time, private 5G network requirements are extensive and can include consideration of several different factors that many enterprise IT teams aren’t ready to assess. These include suitable spectrum licenses, determining network usage, area of coverage, security, availability and reliability of the network, ownership and management, ease of operation, and other considerations. Additionally, private 5G deployment models also include a variety of standalone, hybrid cloud, and macro slice options, so it’s important to adhere to 3GPP standards and specifications if an enterprise is going to maintain interoperability for all the different hardware and OS’ running in their ecosystem.

Enterprise Evolution with 5G Adoption Figure 2: Private Cellular Deployment models trending today

One area of deep consideration for enterprise IT managers involves the complexity of the cellular Radio Access Network (RAN), which can be sometimes seem daunting. Enterprise IT are used to the ease of deployment of Wi-Fi and expect a similar level of ease for a private cellular deployment. As opposed other wireless access technologies, there are several RAN requirements for private cellular use, including coverage, device-centric use cases, performance per device, having an enterprise-friendly profile, enterprise-owned and operated radios, as well as transport considerations.

A key area for private 5G operators involves additional spectrum requirements, including licensing for “sub-6 GHz” and “millimeter wave” spectrum bands. While enterprise IT teams may be used to the ease of Wi-Fi, that technology uses unlicensed spectrum bands. 5G networks require the use of licensed spectrum, so IT teams must take into consideration several factors. Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum (CBRS) has been a popular choice for some enterprise networks but involve additional considerations regarding regulated spectrum licenses. The chart below shows some different options.

Public/Private Licensed SpectrumNew Regulated LicensesUnlicensed Spectrum
– Spectrum Use Agreements – Lease
– Owned Spectrum, e.g. (600MHz, C Band)
– No interference. most secure, Reliable
– Unique CSP/MNO asset if owned
– Monetizable value, SLA ready
– MOCN/5G Slicing
– CBRS GAA (rules based unlicensed)
– CBRS PAL (licensed owned)
– 900Mhz (realigned 6MHz)
– New, but subjected to limits
– Highly reliable, strong value, low chance of limits, SLA potential
– Mostly focused on Utilities
– 2.4, 5, 6 GHz (also some mmWave)
– Freely available
– Useful, but can’t offer full SLA
– Risk for costly outages
– Extra high-capacity cases with LAA, carrier aggregation
– Lowest cost alternative, best effort
Enterprise Evolution with 5G Adoption Table 2: Spectrum options for use by enterprise

Additionally, in a radio access network, there are several kinds of radio solutions available for private 5G networks, including All-in-One (AiO) small cells, classical RAN, virtual RAN, and open RAN. Enterprise IT managers must take these into account, along with how to address RAN virtualization and “RAN functional splits” based on specific use cases they wish to enable. These include requirements for large venues, high number of indoor radios, mmWave deployments, shared cell and spectrum usage, and scattered outdoor deployments.  Transport network considerations are also important, including options for Integrated Access and Backhaul (IAB), hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC), Ethernet, and passive optical networks (PON).

This is a lot to take in from an education standpoint for IT teams, so enterprises are increasingly choosing to be very prescriptive about how they’re using private 5G.

Overall, security and mobility considerations remain top challenges for enterprise network managers. Mobility for private 5G networks involves several factors that are bundled together but need to be considered independently. These factors can include relevant mobility scenarios used by different industry verticals, cellular identity onboarding, how mobility is used in an enterprise context, application-based vs network-based mobility, shared networks, and roaming between public and private networks. 5G has standardized mobility management features to sustain comprehensive enterprise requirements, including high capacity, low latency, reliability, and interference management and mobility.

Private 5G security also includes management of several different areas. Private 5G operators should be aware of enhancements and functions of overall 5G security standards and specifications. Additional enterprise-related security policies and data protection should be considered, as well as identity management and access control and RAN security. Key metrics that enterprises expect include secure access for enterprise IT, deployment configuration information, secure access of device and SIM authentication credentials, secure management of subscriber data, full life cycle management, detailed usage records, KPIs and metrics, and location information. More info on 5G security can be found in other 5G Americas white papers, such as Evolving 5G Security for the Cloud, Security for 5G, and Security Considerations for the 5G Era.

Finally, management and operation of enterprise networks is dominated by ease of use and automation. From a go-to-market and operational standpoint, several options exist for the operator, including buying public 5G services from an MNO, leasing a 5G network slice, building a 5G network. If the enterprise does decide to move forward with their own P5G network, the private 5G operator must also determine how their P5G network will integrate with national mobile networks. Here, several potential roaming scenarios exist between private and public networks.

Enterprise Evolution with 5G Adoption Figure 13: Possible Roaming scenarios between private and public networks

As I have often said, we are still early in the ballgame for 5G networks. The rise of private 5G networks in enterprises is a demonstration that this connectivity technology can meet the toughest of corporate and government demands. With over a billion 5G connections at the end of 2022, 5G’s development and deployments are managing to stay ahead of the insatiable demand for mobile data. Over the next few years, I expect to see more large companies creating and using amazing new technology, tried and tested in their own 5G networks – making 5G a true platform for innovation.

-Chris

See how enterprises are integrating 5G into their networks.

The rise in private 5G and 4G/LTE network deployments is rapidly expanding, as enterprises continue the digitization of their operations to boost automation and improve data security.

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