IT leaders curious about the opportunities and challenges of deploying private 5G (P5G) within their organization often struggle with the various deployment options available on the market today. As relevant use cases begin to climb, such as the use of private cellular technology to deliver guaranteed performance for automating manufacturing processes or increasing public cellular coverage using neutral host functionality, choosing a deployment model is crucial to success. Here are four different P5G deployment options, the key players, and some of the benefits and detriments of each.
The do-it-yourself (DIY) private 5G deployments
Plenty of private 5G equipment vendors will gladly sell you individual components that IT shops can use to deploy a P5G network using a “best in breed” approach. Businesses can opt to purchase radio access network (RAN) components from vendor A, a mobile core from vendor B, and programmable SIM cards from Vendor C. Manufacturers in this space include Airspan, Athonet, Druid, Teal, and many others.
Using this procurement and deployment approach provides maximum freedom to choose the best components and functionality that the business requires. Because private 5G networks use standards-based methodologies, all components should theoretically be able to work together to build a bespoke system for current and future needs. This is especially true as it relates to choosing the right P5G radios and antenna systems based on indoor and outdoor environments that can hinder wireless propagation in certain scenarios.
The DIY approach comes with significant disadvantages, however. Piecing together a P5G system requires a deep understanding of cellular data technologies and necessitates skilled cellular practitioners to properly deploy, integrate, calibrate, and tune the network. This can be a heavy lift for already overburdened IT staff.
Additionally, since components come from multiple vendors, any updates to one P5G component can negatively impact the operability of others. Thus, more time and effort must be spent ensuring that the various parts of the overall P5G network remain in harmony. This can place unwelcome strain on enterprise IT shops as private cellular is a relatively new concept.
Turnkey private 5G deployments
Those that wish to deploy and manage their own private 5G network due to data security concerns and centralized management oversight – but want to avoid the challenges of a DIY model can opt for an end-to-end and fully-integrated private 5G LAN solution. Celona was an early innovator and pioneer in this segment but has since seen increased competition from the likes of larger players such as Nokia and Ericsson.
Modeled after the common Wi-Fi LAN (WLAN) framework, the turnkey approach is designed to directly integrate with existing IP domain structures, security systems, and quality of service (QoS) policies already in place.
Vendors in this space sell complete private 5G turnkey systems to customers that include all the requisite components an enterprise needs to deploy an end-to-end private cellular network. The management of each system is typically controlled using a single cloud-based orchestration platform and comes with proprietary features and tighter integration between components that may appeal to businesses.
Once a turnkey P5G solution is built, ongoing IT operations and component upgrades are streamlined and better guaranteed to work as they come from a single vendor. The only real downside to this deployment approach is that it locks the enterprise customer into the portfolio of RAN, 5G core, and indoor/outdoor access point options that the vendor offers.
Managed service provider (MSP) P5G deployments
Several managed service providers, such as Betacom, Cisco, and Federated Wireless, will design, deploy, and manage a P5G network deployment on their customer's behalf. While this removes much of the up-front CAPEX of hardware/software purchases and eliminates the need to upskill internal staff on the management of private cellular networks, it creates other issues, such as an increase in OPEX due to ongoing managed services charges, creates data security concerns, and significantly limits deployment options and functionality to only what the MSP currently offers. Relinquishing control and management of essential connectivity to vital business applications can often be a hard pill to swallow for many companies.
Public carrier private 5G network slice deployments
Finally, public carriers, including AT&T, T-Mobile, and Verizon, offer a quasi-P5G network solution to businesses that leverage their public cellular networks. A network slice can be carved out of the carrier's public network that is dedicated to a single business customer. This "outside-in" approach removes the need to deploy cellular components on-site such as P5G access points. The virtual slice of the public mobile network operator (MNO) network typically operates over licensed spectrum as opposed to all other private 5G options that transmit over coordinated but unlicensed CBRS. This allows for rapid scalability over larger geographical areas without concern over CBRS spectrum congestion. However, this coverage may be far more limited, especially for indoor use cases, as 5G cellular may not propagate well in certain parts of a building, campus, or plant. It can also introduce unwanted data metering costs along with a host of data privacy concerns as business traffic traverses a public network over a dedicated network slice.
Deployment complexity, data control, and cost
Ultimately choosing the right private 5G deployment model boils down to how willing and capable a business is regarding the deployment/management of private cellular systems, the amount of control over the data traversing the network, and upfront/ongoing costs throughout the lifespan of the system. Enterprise integration with existing infrastructure is often a key point of concern and differentiation among vendors and vendor options.
Despite the various deployment alternatives available on the private 5G market today, two of these approaches seem to resonate most with enterprise customers. Turnkey solutions are likely the preferred choice as they are designed to directly integrate with existing 2/3 networks a business already has in place and eases the complexity of managing a multi-vendor private cellular network while ensuring data security. MSP options tend to be the second most popular choice as they shift P5G investment from CAPEX to OPEX and largely eliminate the need for in-house private cellular skills – all while ensuring that coverage is guaranteed compared to public carrier approaches.