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Should Your Enterprise Build Its Own 5G Network?

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5G security
(Source: Pixabay)

A private 5G network allows enterprises to deploy a customized indoor or outdoor wireless environment that provides high-speed, high-capacity, and low-latency connectivity, regardless of whether or not the site is within a public 5G coverage area.

The technology allows adopters to deploy private wireless networks at sites where coverage, speed, and security capabilities must be extended beyond those offered by Wi-Fi and other network technologies.

Early adopters

Enterprises that can benefit from deploying their own 5G networks typically need a reliable wireless network with few, if any, dead spots, as well as organizations with use-cases that require a lower total cost of operations compared to fiber networks, said Arun Santhanam, vice president and head of the telco market unit at enterprise consulting firm Capgemini Americas. "Some examples would be a big warehouse that requires strong 5G coverage or a remote location where doctors have to perform mission-critical operations."

The earliest adopters are organizations that need to increase control and reduce risk around third party involvement in the provisioning, support, monitoring, and management of IT infrastructure, observed Abdul Rahman, an associate vice president with Deloitte's risk and financial advisory’s cyber and strategic risk practices.

Many early adopters are also looking to enhance user experience, advance security, and increase IoT device connectivity, added Shehadi Dayekh, a Deloitte 5G cyber specialist master. "Interest in 5G networks is growing in many different sectors, including government, power and utilities, healthcare, smart manufacturing, and automotive enterprises."

Low cost/low latency

The prime benefit of building your own 5G network is that you'll have a relatively low total cost of operations, Santhanam said. "You’ll much more effectively share information across nodes and IoT devices with low latency to make mission-critical decisions."

The promise of potentially bullet-proof network security is also luring enterprises to private 5G. "Organizations that are building, or considering building, their own 5G networks typically do so not only to better control security and manage user experience but also to help guarantee that data originating within their wireless infrastructure terminates there without risking exposure via third party operators," Dayekh explained.

Drawbacks

As many potential adopters soon discover, private 5G network technology, for all of its benefits, is also hamstrung by some serious limitations. "5G networks are harder to build and maintain than Wi-Fi networks and require continuous monitoring, optimization, and support," Dayekh said. Physical restrictions can also hamper deployment, driving costs up. "For example, if the coverage area is too big, or if the area has too many buildings that require signals to go across concrete infrastructure," Santhanam noted.

IT leaders also face the challenge of training staff members to manage and maintain the private network. "Depending on the operational requirements, talent support for 5G network security may range from 24/7 to something less intensive," Rahman explained.

Cost considerations

There's a significant cost component to building a private 5G network. "First, you need to build the network itself, but you also need to build the supporting infrastructure and to put the right operational team in place to maintain it," Santhanam said.

If the 5G infrastructure is deployed in the cloud, there may also be costs associated with certain types of 5G network builds, Rahman noted. On the bright side, thanks to the adoption of open standards and open source libraries, some private wireless connectivity costs are beginning to fall. This is largely due to the flexibility inherent in a cloud-native deployment of 5G network functions, as well as a reduced need for proprietary software, combined with the growing availability of lightly-licensed spectrum that satisfies coverage needs in indoor spaces for certain use cases, Dayekh explained.

First steps

A leading way to get started with private 5G technology is by building a network that will initially serve as a backup to an existing fiber network. "Use this 5G network for very specific low latency use cases, and once it’s proven to be successful, gradually expand its capabilities and responsibilities," Santhanam advised.

Dayekh said he's seen many enterprises take a lab-evaluation approach to determining a planned private 5G network's likely value. By building mini-networks with only limited wireless connectivity, an organization can explore private 5G's potential benefits via high-value use cases that are designed to solve unique problems and unlock innovation, he said.

Looking forward

Dayekh pointed out that cellular networks are already beginning the evolution from 5G to 6G technology and beyond. He said that forward-looking enterprises will use advanced cellular connectivity to strengthen security and embrace automated processes, intelligence, and network openness. "It's never too late to contribute to the wireless evolution and be part of shaping the change," Dayekh suggested.