5G adoption in public mobile networks is well on the road to success, with Omdia reporting a total of 119 million 5G connections in North America by the end of 2022. However, despite the early hype, consumer 5G has not been truly transformative because for most users connection speeds are typically only 2-3 times faster than LTE. This is a far cry from the gigabit connections 5G will ultimately support, although users are realizing the benefits of improved video quality, fasters downloads, and lower latency for mobile gaming apps.
A key gating factor is the availability and utilization of licensed spectrum in the “mid-band” and “high-band” regions, which operators are just starting to utilize. Early 5G deployments have mainly used the same “low-band” spectrum that LTE networks operate in, which has limited speeds because shorter wavelengths in higher spectrum bands are critical for gigabit connections. Sophisticated new radio antenna techniques, such as “massive MIMO” and “beamforming”, are also needed to reach these speeds.
Connection speeds will improve dramatically over the next 2-3 years as mobile network operators gain additional spectrum and work through the process of migrating from 4G LTE to 5G. The vast majority of 5G networks today operate in the 5G Non-Standalone (5G NSA) configuration, in which new 5G radios are connected to an operator’s existing LTE core. The next step is to adopt the 5G Standalone (5G SA) configuration by connecting 5G radios to a new, cloud-native 5G Core based on the 3GPP’s 5G Service-Based Architecture (SBA), which will enable service providers to realize the full potential of 5G in public networks.
What does this have to do with private 5G networks? A quick Google search on “private 5G is a game-changer” will turn up an array of links to articles explaining how the adoption of private 5G networks will benefit both enterprises and service providers. Here’s why.
From the outset, 5G was conceived to enable a new generation of mobile services tailored to meet the demanding requirements of enterprise applications by supporting the following:
The 3GPP 5G SBA specifies a “network slicing” capability that is a key enabler for private networks. Think of network slices as secure virtual networks with QoS guarantees. LTE services are essentially best effort. With 5G network slicing, operators can allocate and dynamically manage radio network resources so that applications are assured of the required QoS to satisfy stringent enterprise SLAs.
When 5G Standalone is widely adopted by mobile operators, network slicing will enable enterprise virtual private 5G networks supporting a wide range of business-critical mobile applications within an operator’s 5G coverage map. These private 5G services, delivered via public network infrastructure, will be inherently more secure and offer better performance than enterprise applications accessing the public network directly.
This is good news, but we don’t need to wait for network slicing in the public network. Enterprises can benefit from the advanced capabilities of 5G today by building and operating their own on-premise private 5G networks. Products and solutions are available today for deploying radio systems on-site for 5G coverage across large-scale campus environments, factories, remote industrial operations, transportation hubs, medical facilities and even metropolitan areas. My next blog post will delve into operational scenarios across multiple industry verticals, but leading-edge use cases typically involve a multiplicity of mobile user devices and smart machines that require high-speed, low-latency connections for a range of demanding enterprise applications.
The following technologies are key enablers for on-premise enterprise private 5G networks:
While WiFi will always play a role in in-building wireless networks for connecting commonly used devices such as PCs, laptops and tablets, private 5G is a better choice for demanding use cases that require stronger security, QoS guarantees and involve highly mobile user devices and smart machines. 5G is also the preferred choice for hybrid scenarios in which the enterprise private 5G network extends beyond on-premise facilities to network slices in the public network.
Finally, the 3GPP 5G SBA also provides the hooks for implementing APIs that will enable applications to gain visibility into network state and to request QoS for 5G connections, which will be a key requirement for demanding applications in both public and private 5G networks. These types of APIs will be especially important for machine-to-machine communications requiring reliable, stable high-speed connections. Human users are often adept at detecting and working around lousy cellular connections, when possible, but a machine’s ability to communicate reliably will be entirely dependent on the state of the network and conditions that impact a machine’s quality-of-experience.
Private 5G is definitely a game-changer, and in my next blog post we will explore the leading deployment scenarios and use cases for private 5G that are proving this today for enterprises and service providers around the world.