Private 5G, without doubt, will prove to be groundbreaking. This will be especially true for mission-critical applications that demand low latency and guaranteed quality of service (QoS). But there is confusion over how private and public 5G networks will evolve, compete and collaborate.
Additionally, there are differing opinions – some believe that private 5G will jeopardize public 5G adoption while others argue that 5G will replace Wi-Fi. Others believe enterprises will build private 5G networks on their own if affordable spectrum is available. Many are of the opinion that cellular networks like 5G are too complicated for non-telcos to build and operate. Which of these opinions are correct? While there may be no right or wrong answers, there is a need to demystify 5G technology before arriving at a dependable response.
The Evolution of Enterprise Communications and the Promise of 5GLAN
Over the last 2 decades public networks and enterprise private networks have gone through a major transformation. The dedicated EPABX has disappeared and enterprises have embraced a unified communication solution that provides email, voice, video and web services over an IP network alongside a gateway to Public Land Mobile Network (PLMN).
The public land mobile network (PLMN) went through a similar evolution starting from 2G/3G that provided separate core networks for circuit switched (voice) and packet switched (data) traffic to LTE networks that provide only a packet switched core. In a 4G LTE network, voice works as an application using IP Multimedia Subsystem (IMS). Public switched telephone networks (PSTN) also evolved to provide Centrex features that essentially enable EPABX functionality from a Public Telephone Switch.
The enterprises deploying unified communication networks today could reach out to public telephony networks using session border controllers as a gateway and to the external data network (Internet) using a proxy and firewall.
As the world adopts Internet protocol version 6 (IPv6), it is now possible to have globally unique IP addresses for all IP-capable devices. This brings a unique opportunity to provide private IP networks over public networks using 5GLAN features.
While the 5GLAN standard is still evolving, once all the issues are resolve, it will provide simultaneous registration to PLMN and non-public networks of an enterprise with different access privileges. There are some pressing challenges on identification, discovery, selection and access control for the non-public network that will be solved over time. There also are advanced features like time sensitive networks (TSN) that will enable support for realizing complex industrial automation use cases.
With cloud computing in the mix, unified enterprise communication has acquired a new dimension enabling the convergence of voice, video, email and instant messaging under one roof. 5GLAN can provide the connectivity infrastructure needed to unify all the communication needs of the enterprises while also supporting the mobility of the workforce and ensuring security.
5GLAN bundled with a network slicing capability has the potential to cater to all the use case requirements of an enterprise. If a communication service provider offers network slicing with necessary QoS support and 5GLAN functionality, enterprises well be equipped to meet their communication needs using a public 5G network.
Enterprise Network Mobility
Enterprises today have WLAN infrastructure in their campuses. The WLAN is connected to the enterprise backbone network that in turn is connected to the internet over a router and a firewall. When a user moves inside the office premises, their mobile devices like their laptop, tablet and smartphone could switch over to the WLAN connection for intranet and internet access. If the enterprise and the communication service provider come to an agreement to support EAP-AKA, EAP-SIM or EAP-5G based authentication scheme, the enterprise network could seamlessly route the user traffic onto the public 5G network while still connected to the local WLAN network. This could help address the weak coverage areas of public networks inside the enterprise building and enhance the user experience while reducing the overall cost of build a network.
This would also allow the carriers to focus on providing coverage outside the building while the coverage inside the building is provided by the enterprise WLAN. With the evolution of WLAN to Wi-Fi 6, the performance in ultra-dense areas like airports or stadiums could be effectively managed with proper frequency planning for the free spectrum available at 5GHz band. However, enterprises like manufacturing plants require a guaranteed quality of service that may need a network with licensed spectrum, meaning demand for a private licensed network may arise.
There are several possible deployment options for private 5G:
Option 1: Enterprises build their own network with dedicated spectrum of their own or leased from a telecommunications provider.
Option 2: A telecommunications provider builds and operates the private network for the enterprise and provides seamless integration with its public network.
Option 3: A telecommunications provider builds a public network and provides a dedicated network slice that meets the coverage, capacity and quality requirements of the enterprise.
Spectrum is a key resource for building a cellular wireless network and telecom companies are spending billions to acquire it. If free spectrum is used by businesses, these telecom companies may bleed to death. However, it is unlikely that Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA), which represents over 1,100 companies in the mobile ecosystem, including 750 operators, will allow this. The GSMA wants regulators to:
- Make available 80-100 MHz of contiguous spectrum per operator in prime 5G mid-bands (i.e. 3.5 GHz) and around 1 GHz per operator in millimeter wave bands (i.e. 26/28 GHz).
- Provide 5G spectrum within three key frequency ranges (Sub-1 GHz, 1-6 GHz and above 6 GHz).
- Ensure that exclusively licensed spectrum remains the core 5G spectrum management approach with spectrum sharing and unlicensed bands playing a complementary role.
The GSMA believes that setting spectrum aside for verticals in priority 5G bands (i.e. 3.5/26/28 GHz) could limit network investments, drive up costs, waste spectrum and jeopardize the success of public 5G services. Sharing approaches like leasing are better options where verticals require access to spectrum.
In some regions, like the US, free 5G spectrum is already becoming available. This is in the form of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) . CRBS can be operated in three mechanisms: incumbent access users include authorized federal users, space-to-earth satellites, earth stations, etc., who then receive protection against interference from the next two categories (Priority Access Licensees, PAL and General Authorized Access or the GAA users). Notably, 70 Mhz spectrum will be kept aside for PAL licenses while the remaining will be reserved for the GAA users. The spectrum under GAA is shared spectrum across multiple users and therefore a network requiring guaranteed QoS may not be built with a GAA spectrum.
The Potential of Private 5G
The PAL also allows giants like Google, Facebook and other businesses with deep pockets and planet-sized goals to build their own 5G networks by buying spectrum in an auction.
The going price is going to be high, leaving incumbents worried.
Private 5G is also becoming a reality in many parts of Europe. Corporate licenses are being offered in Germany to the 3.7-3.8GHz wireless spectrum. These are being used for factory automation use cases. For example, Audi and BMW are experimenting with private 5G that connects automotive components to network components.
Telecommunications operators in the region are protesting, claiming it drives up prices for public spectrum. However, Germany has gone ahead, convinced that lowering the dependency on telecom operators will create unprecedented disruption and the inevitable may happen – a rise in networks that are completely disconnected from the Internet and offer the highest level of security. Time will tell how it plays out.
Meanwhile, telecom operators will, of course, offer 5G networks that support a dedicated, secure network for enterprises that need to offer exceptional customer experience. Telecom companies are partnering with cloud providers to provide edge computing and enabling enterprise customers to host applications for their internal and external customers. This will transform the way cloud-based services are rendered to the enterprises and its consumers.
In a mobile-led computing world, with a multi-access edge computing scenario, businesses will have the ability to subscribe to IaaS, PaaS and SaaS. In other words, they can get dedicated servers, or a platform or a hosted software service like they own it. Cleary, we can expect very strong partnerships between telecom companies, cloud providers and technology providers. Just take a look at Amazon partnering
with Verizon and Microsoft partnering with AT&T , for example. These joint offerings have the potential to become very powerful, and could be an effective alternative to private 5G that are built and operated by the enterprises.
To ensure that there is demand for these joint offerings, telecom companies will need to up their game. This will entail partnering with enterprises that bring domain expertise to address how to effectively onboard the vertical applications. Telecoms also must ensure network capacity and quality keeps up with growing demand.
The other outcomes of the current developments around private 5G could be the increasing demand for Bring Your Own Network (BYON). Businesses may want telecom companies to acquire the spectrum, so they can then build their own private 5G network. The service provider could then add maintenance and other value-added services to its catalog for BYON customers through partnerships with traditional technology providers and system integrators.
As we consider these possibilities, it’s clear we are at an exciting time where the convergence of licensed and unlicensed access technologies will foster the evolution of private networks, public networks and Wi-Fi 6 networks. They will collaborate and compete to bring enormous benefits to the entire ecosystem.
— Subhas Mondal, Wipro Fellow and Chief Architect, 5G Initiative, Wipro
Photo by Christina @ wocintechchat.com