Private 5G Networks. One Size Does Not Fit All.

Private 5G adoption is driven by use cases in a broad range of industry verticals such as transportation (airports, shipping hubs), energy (oil & gas), mining, utilities, logistics (delivery, warehouses), Industry 4.0 (manufacturing, IIoT), healthcare and agriculture. Private 5G is also being deployed in large-scale campus environments (business, education, government), public venues (retail, sports, entertainment) and municipalities (smart cities, public safety).

Operational scenarios may differ significantly between verticals. Each use case has specific coverage, performance, reliability and security requirements for the types of users, applications and devices connected to the network. This post looks at the factors driving private 5G network architecture and the selection of the infrastructure required to deliver private 5G services. The key takeaway is that private 5G networks are not one-size-fits-all.

Large enterprises in select verticals have been deploying private LTE networks for years, and adopters have been concentrated in verticals such as mining, energy, transportation and utilities. Private LTE is a multi-billion-dollar market, and with the recent adoption of private 5G, the total market for private cellular networks is projected to grow rapidly.

Analysis Mason forecasts that the number of private LTE/5G deployments will grow at a CAGR of 65% between 2021 and 2027, reaching a total of 39,000 worldwide, with spending rising to $7.7 billion. In 2021, about a quarter of these deployments were private 5G, which will rise to about half in 2024 and two-thirds in 2027.

In four years, there will still be a significant number (13,000) of private LTE deployments, which reflects the maturity of LTE technology and the widespread availability of low-cost LTE devices. Private LTE has been deployed at remote sites where cellular service is unavailable (such as a mining operation), and at the other extreme, in crowded places where users contend for public LTE services (such as at a major airport), delivering secure, reliable mobile services for key personnel. In the short run, LTE is sufficient for simple voice calls, messaging and LTE-speed data service.

However, 5G technology enables many new use cases that are beyond the capabilities of LTE networks, which is why Analysis Mason forecasts 26,000 private 5G deployments in 2027. So let’s consider the primary factors that will drive enterprise network design and deployment strategies.

Reliability and security are key requirements for private 5G networks, but there are differences of degree between verticals and use cases. For example, first responder communications in public safety “life-or-death” scenarios calls for ultra-high reliability. A highly automated Industry 4.0 manufacturing operation would benefit from radios located on-premise and operating in privately licensed spectrum to ensure maximum security. Yet a logistics business might be fine utilizing network slicing for private 5G in the public network to communicate with its delivery vehicles and drivers.

Coverage requirements can vary widely by vertical. A large-scale mining operation might need coverage over a large surface area as well as deep-down mine shafts, while a large campus environment would need strong in-building coverage and coverage for outside areas where people tend to congregate. Private 5G coverage for agricultural operations might span many square miles.

Mobility is also a key factor. How far and fast are devices moving? Are there use cases involving highly-mobile machines, robots, unmanned vehicles or drones? A key factor driving private 5G adoption will be a dramatic increase in machine-to-machine communications requiring high-bandwidth connections.

5G provides at least a 10x improvement in performance and latency over LTE, which will be a key factor driving private 5G adoption. Examples of high-bandwidth applications are real-time video analytics, AR/VR and digital twins. Low latency will be critical for real-time remote monitoring and control applications.

Device density is yet another factor. A multitude of high-speed devices deployed in a limited area requires more radio capacity to handle the device connections. There are also IoT use cases involving a massive number of simple sensors that necessitate low-power, narrow-band coverage over a wide area.

5G spectrum is a complex issue requiring a longer exposition than this short blog post. Enterprises have the option to operate on-premise private 5G networks in “quasi-licensed” CBRS spectrum or they can lease operator-owned spectrum. Spectrum availability ultimately dictates which use cases are possible in private 5G. High-performance/low-latency applications will generally operate in higher frequency spectrum, but there are trade-offs. For example, mmWave spectrum capable of multi-gigabit connections only provides line-of-sight coverage over relatively short distances.

In my next blog post, you will see how a keen understanding of these factors is a prerequisite for developing a sound business strategy for private 5G and making the right deployment decisions. Unlike other enterprise networking technologies, which are mostly cookie-cutter implementations based on common reference architectures, private 5G networks are more complex due to the wide variation in use case requirements across industry verticals. One size does not fit all.

Author's Bio

Stephen Collins

Service Provider CTO