The Enterprise Private 5G Journey

In my last post, I explained why private 5G networks are not one-size-fits-all and outlined the salient technical issues that enterprise decision-makers must consider when developing a private 5G strategy. While there are common use cases within industry verticals, the unique needs and business priorities of individual organizations will ultimately determine the specific path each enterprise takes on its private 5G journey.

The journey starts by rationalizing how private 5G will underpin an enterprise’s C-level business objectives, which will differ from company to company across many industry verticals. However, common themes are emerging, such as strategic digital transformation initiatives, digital-first business processes, increasingly mobile workers or machines, massive-scale IoT deployments and Industry 4.0 automation. Private 5G must move the needle somehow – by growing revenue, increasing profitability, reducing costs, automating operations, boosting productivity, improving customer satisfaction or enabling new business opportunities.

Private 5G strategy needs to be pinned directly to positive business outcomes. While it is impossible to envision all future benefits of a private 5G deployment, “if you build it, they will come” is not a sound approach. Each adopter should strive to establish specific measurable goals that define business success.

It is important to delineate the role of private 5G vs. WiFi 6/7 for wireless connectivity in campus environments. Due to its lower cost and relative ubiquity in many settings, WiFi isn’t going away and will continue to provide connectivity for commonly used devices such as laptops, tablets and consumer-grade IoT devices.

Enterprise use cases constitute the individual plays in the private 5G playbook. A key step in the planning process involves envisioning deployment scenarios and specifying the operational requirements for each use case, such as the following:

  • Who are the users? People? Machines?
  • What are the user applications?
  • What types of 5G devices?
  • How many users and devices?
  • What are the device mobility characteristics?
  • What type of coverage is needed? Indoor/outdoor? On-premise/off-premise?
  • What are the performance requirements? Throughput/latency/jitter?
  • What are the reliability requirements?
  • What are the security requirements?

For example, in Industry 4.0 settings, private 5G can be deployed to underpin the operational technology (OT) for monitoring and managing complex industrial equipment and systems comprised of smart machines and a multitude of IoT devices. Mission-critical OT applications will have stringent requirements for 5G performance, reliability and security, and device mobility characteristics will dictate indoor and outdoor on-premise radio coverage requirements.

While an enterprise could develop its own playbook of private 5G use cases, it might be wise for planners to partner with a system integrator or industry solution provider that has in-depth experience with the “X’s and O’s” of the relevant use cases. Equipped with a well-documented, thorough analysis of the private 5G use case requirements, decision-makers are ready for the next step of the journey, which is to select the private 5G deployment model best suited to their needs.

For use cases requiring 5G coverage over a broad geographic area, mobile network operators offer private 5G network services that are delivered via public network infrastructure. Network slicing is a new 5G technology that provides an optimal way for operators to deliver private services. Think of network slices as secure, QoS-enabled virtual private networks dedicated to a specific enterprise or possibly specific users or applications within an enterprise.

While network slicing can also be used to provide local, on-premise connectivity, enterprises may opt for the assured performance, reliability and security of a private 5G network based entirely on equipment deployed on-premise, for both in-building and outdoor coverage.

This equipment could be owned and operated by the enterprise but other models are possible.

One option is for a mobile network operator to install the necessary equipment and operate the private 5G network on behalf of the enterprise, under the terms of a managed services agreement. Leading network equipment vendors also install private 5G networks and provide comparable managed services. Systems integrators, industry solution providers and cloud service providers are also getting into private 5G managed services, in partnership with 5G equipment vendors and solution specialists, including specialists that manage complex RF planning and design for cellular networks.

Hybrid deployment models are also possible, in which the private 5G network spans both public network infrastructure and the on-premise 5G network. In this scenario, control of the entire private 5G network could reside with the mobile network operator or it could be split between the operator and a third-party managed service provider (or possibly the enterprise itself).

Choosing the right spectrum band(s) is another key step on the private 5G journey. Cellular networks can operate in licensed spectrum, typically owned by a mobile network operator, or in lightly-licensed spectrum (for example, CBRS in the U.S.) or unlicensed spectrum (for example, 60 GHz) spectrum. Use case performance requirements are a key factor in selecting spectrum for a private 5G network, and this in turn could influence the choice of deployment model. Mobile network operators and equipment vendors have years of experience deploying LTE and 5G in licensed spectrum bands, while a new generation of equipment vendors and solution providers are capitalizing on the availability of CBRS spectrum in the U.S. market.

5G networks and deployment models are complex, based on new chips, new devices and the underlying systems and software that continue to evolve with each release of the 3GPP standards. Managing this complexity will compel decision-makers to choose the appropriate set of partners for justifying, planning, designing, installing and operating a network that enables enterprises to successfully realize their business objectives.

In my next blog post, we’ll take a closer look at the various players in the private 5G ecosystem that enterprises are partnering with to reach the ultimate destination on their private 5G journey. Please note that all of my private 5G blog posts in this series can be found here, and you can subscribe to this blog here.

Author's Bio

Stephen Collins

Service Provider CTO