Obscured to date by what many see as a consumer-oriented 5G wireless deployment focus, the emergence of 5G private networks for enterprises is coming into clear view. For IT managers, they can serve as an alternative to wired LANs in more demanding, campus-style, enterprise environments.
Private 5G wireless networks are expected to win the attention of enterprise IT managers looking for dedicated systems that promise to provide next-level performance, security, reliability, and privacy for industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) applications.
Lacking the coverage and reliability of public cellular 5G networks, enterprises and carriers have begun exploring private networks that they could build and manage. Companies see the dedicated option as providing optimized services and a secure method of communications in these campus nets.
Finding a home
Private 5G networks have passed the blue-sky stage, emerging to address the performance requirements of crucial processes in a wide array of categories including factories, warehouses, container ports, oil and gas production, chemical plants, and energy generation and distribution.
So, what exactly is a private 5G network? Using 5G New Radio (NR) units, this type of network is designed to be a robust replacement for wired Ethernet networks and provide higher-speed and better performance for all connected workers and devices in industrial processes today.
The allure of private 5G networks is that they enable firms to optimize and redefine business processes in ways not achievable with wired networks or with public wide-area cellular services. They can be easily configured and reconfigured and are pitched as enjoying 5G's ultra-low latency and superfast data rates.
Private 5G networks are expected to exceed current private wireless networks in terms of security, largely because the operator will be able to specify security policies. These can be custom designed, configured, and controlled by the IT manager rather than the wireless service provider.
Private 5G networks aren't for all enterprise uses. Wireless operators' equipment vendors emphasize that the systems can be a good fit for large buildings, factories, and more, but they're not intended for enterprises with geographically dispersed locations.
The stakes are high for private 5G networks as companies are essentially moving from wired Ethernet networks to a wireless infrastructure. The new systems must deliver uninterrupted cellular connectivity required to orchestrate a diverse group of connected devices, all essential to supercharge IIoT applications.
And with private 5G networks, IT managers can provision and reconfigure the networks without having to rely on wireless operators. This enables a purported higher level of security and flexibility.
Performance associated with 5G should sway IT managers over time toward private 5G networks. Many are already struggling with performance issues with their current LTE and Wi-Fi implementations.
Enterprises will have some flexibility in building their own private 5G networks, and that’s expected to speed use. Spectrum-wise, IT managers may prefer licensed spectrum, though unlicensed spectrum looks to become an available option, with emerging technologies seen as helping provide predictable performance in shared bands. The 3GPP is expected to specify NR use in unlicensed spectrum going forward.
Enterprises will be able to use licensed spectrum provided by wireless operators, dedicated spectrum with sharing, unlicensed spectrum with asynchronous sharing, or (for greater capacity), unlicensed spectrum with synchronous sharing capability.
The eventual emergence of shared, unlicensed spectrum access approaches is expected to help private networks flourish going forward as a private network option for IT managers to evaluate for campus scenarios, buildings, and public venues such as sports venues.
Looking ahead, securing spectrum could get easier here in the U.S if the government follows the lead of others and specifies spectrum dedicated to the construction of private 5G networks.
Meanwhile, wireless operators have seemingly been focused on 5G mobile service deployments in major metropolitan areas in pursuit of what they call nationwide networks. As a result, private 5G networks for enterprises, especially for Industrial IoT applications, have received far less attention.
This could be a concern for enterprise IT managers seeking private 5G networks soon. But Based on an extensive survey of users, Gartner Group concluded the first focus on consumer broadband could delay network investments, which are more relevant to enterprise use cases, such as edge computing. The advisory and consulting firm also listed network slicing as an area that could face delays in spending because of the first focus on consumer 5G services.
While enterprise IT managers consider building and running private 5G networks, there’s a strong chance that these technology evaluators and planners will eventually want to add carrier-provided offerings such as managed options provided by wireless operators looking to evolve their business models.
In fact, IT managers can expect additional options aimed at satisfying enterprise security and privacy requirements. These offerings might appeal to some IT managers as they would offload some of the care and feeding tasks associated with private 5G networks.
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