Private 5G (P5G) enterprise use cases and deployment options are a hot topic now, thanks to the availability of free-to-use CBRS spectrum. Given P5G’s resilient architecture and high throughput/low-latency performance, IT shops across a myriad of market verticals are now investigating different use-case deployment opportunities. The problem, however, is that most private 5G architectures available these days were designed to operate to meet the needs of large-scale carriers – not private businesses.
As such, several important routing and management features may be missing from private 5G platforms that can hinder integration within corporate networks.
Routing and subnetting limitations
When looking at the leading vendors who manufacture and sell wireless solutions in both the private and public 5G space, vendors such as Motorola, Nokia, and Qualcomm are considered to be at the top of that list. What’s often not understood, however, is that the private 5G market is currently much smaller when compared to public 5G sales opportunities. In turn, these companies remain focused on public carrier needs. As a result, many of the enterprise-friendly features assumed to be in their private 5G platforms are absent.
One excellent example of this centers around traffic management and, more specifically, subnetting and routing options between the private 5G LAN and existing enterprise L2/L3 business networks.
Many vendor private 5G network architectures treat the 5G radio access network (RAN) as a flat layer 2 network with a single IP subnet that uses network address translation (NAT) to connect to the LAN. For small-scale deployments, this may be a workable solution. But for larger and more complex integrations with enterprise networks that include multiple, segmented subnets operating within the RAN, the ability to create subnets and route them across a LAN with a dynamic routing protocol would obviously be highly desirable. When enterprise customers begin researching P5G integration options, and they find that routing/subnetting is limited, they’re often left disappointed.
Lack of flexibility, visibility, and control
Another factor impacting the seamless integration of P5G is that native support for CBRS (band 48 in the U.S.) in user equipment beyond smartphones, tablets, and other handhelds is still emerging. Many IoT systems, like wireless medical equipment, sensors, and automated guided vehicles in warehouses, must be connected to 5G LAN using mobile router gateways from companies such as Sierra Wireless, Cradlepoint, and others. These devices translate Wi-Fi or Ethernet traffic to CBRS. Doing so creates a new problem by effectively eliminating the ability for IT staff to directly access these clients, each of which can sit on a separate VLAN behind the mobile router.
Along those same lines, we’ve already noted that most private 5G vendor architectures require NAT to be enabled at a gateway that sits between the P5G RAN and the corporate LAN. This creates a loss of network visibility as all cellular devices communicating with applications or services on the LAN look like they are coming from a single IP address. This lack of visibility creates an administrative nightmare when it comes to device monitoring, patch management, and security scanning of devices connected to the P5G network. Enterprise IT staff spend a great deal of time creating policy frameworks and security postures that they want to be able to enforce for all devices connected to the network. Without accessibility, client devices behind these mobile routers can't participate in these schemes.
A third issue found with platforms that were primarily designed for public carrier use is a lack of configuration control over network services. Several cellular infrastructure vendors require that customers provide them with IP subnetting information upfront during the design phase. The vendor will then configure IP address spaces, including DHCP allocations on the customer's behalf within their cloud management platform. If any adds or changes are required down the road, the customer must engage customer support. This is in stark contrast to what most enterprise network engineers face with other popular wireless technologies such as Wi-Fi. The cumbersome configuration and lack of control can turn many enterprise organizations off from deploying private 5G in the first place.
Responding to enterprise feature deficiencies
The good news is that P5G is a market that is growing fast. Consequently, new vendors are seeking to cater better to customer demand. Thus, many of the deficiencies that exist today from a routing and management integration perspective may not be around much longer. For example, Celona Inc, a self-proclaimed 5G LAN vendor specifically catering to enterprise customers, recently introduced enhancements to their platform that includes layer 3 routing functionality between their RAN platform and an enterprise LAN using OSPF or RIPv2 protocols. As device traffic passes through the Celona edge software stack, the system intelligently inspects DHCP requests, making note of the subnet and client IP address. The cellular gateway then populates routing tables with the request paths to these devices. This removes the need for myriad DHCP scopes that would otherwise need to be to be configured and managed.
This addition of dynamic routing protocol support helps enterprises more easily integrate complex P5G networks into an existing corporate LAN while also eliminating the visibility gap that has become a problem for the enterprise.
P5G vendors must adapt to enterprise needs or risk being forgotten
The enterprise-friendly enhancements that some wireless vendors like Celona are moving forward with are precisely the types of steps needed for private 5G networks to truly be as flexible as the enterprise demands. In a nutshell, businesses are expecting P5G networks to be as easy to install and manage as Wi-Fi. And with few exceptions, that’s not the case right now. Hopefully, 5G network vendors will realize that the integration and management needs of carrier 5G customers and private 5G customers are vastly different and will adapt accordingly. If they don’t, they risk losing out to those that do.