Unwrapping the potential for private 5G

Unwrapping the potential for private 5G

We’re living in a connected society and people are constantly looking for new ways to stay up to date and ‘always on’ – with no interference. Jürgen Hatheier, International CTO at Ciena, explores the advantages of private 5G and believes that ‘the promise of private 5G holds too much potential for the journey to Industry 4.0 to not be figured out’.

There is almost nothing left in the physical world that we rely on for the day-to-day operation of a business that is not connected. Take a look around you now and most things you’ll see that you need for work, rest or play have some semblance of connectivity. Even sports apparel is now increasingly ‘connected’, with one apparel maker releasing connected jerseys that connect a basketball jersey via a near-field communication (NFC) chip to a smartphone to launch ‘exclusive content’.

If even our clothes are connected, imagine what the advent of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and analytics – along with advances in devices and interfaces associated with robotics, sensors, drones, autonomous vehicles, wearables and batteries – are doing for everything else? Customers now have a wealth of advanced, tailored product and service options to choose from, which means enterprises face a hyper-competitive environment with ongoing challenges to remain profitable and differentiated. High quality, value, innovation and personalisation are paramount for winning customer preference.

The same holds true for industry, particularly healthcare, manufacturing, transportation and utilities, which are investing heavily in the Internet of Things (IoT), automation and AI to improve business efficiency, operations safety, customer satisfaction, sustainability and, of course, profitability. You’ve heard the term Industry 4.0, and these sectors are accelerating towards it, with each experiencing its own unique challenges in getting there.

Key to Industry 4.0, and the converged world more generally, is connectivity. Any underlying network must support these applications by providing required throughput and latency with guaranteed availability and security to avoid disrupting business operations. Public 5G ensures that consumer applications are catered to accordingly. But in industry, connectivity and low latency are as critical as is security, quality of service and mobility. They need wireless, consistent and high-capacity connectivity.

So, the question to CEOs and CIOs is: What about a private alternative?

Converged world, complex requirements

Private 5G has the potential to deliver the performance, reliability, scalability and security that a Wi-Fi-based network simply cannot. The emergence of private 5G as a potential answer is not new, with private 5G deployments predicted to be deployed back in 2020, but it’s expected to ramp up in earnest this year and beyond. Even some governments are getting on the bandwagon, with the French and German governments recently announcing joint funding of four private 5G projects to enable a ‘European ecosystem for private networks in the field of 5G telecommunications’.

The primary force driving the adoption of private 5G is industry’s focus on leveraging digitisation to improve process efficiency, Business Continuity and agility, operational safety and sustainability. However, deployments of private 5G don’t come without their own challenges.

For one, spectrum licensing has historically been an extremely expensive obstacle to deploying private wireless networks – hence the widespread adoption of natively unlicensed Wi-Fi. Recently, however, regulators in multiple countries have acknowledged the potential of private 5G for industry progress and are making local or shared spectrum available for enterprise use with encouraging economics.

Another considerable barrier for private cellular adoption has been its inherent complexity. Enterprises’ IT staff typically lack the requisite understanding to design, deploy and manage the myriad of complex 4G/LTE and 5G technologies, such as specialised radio access network (RAN) elements and core software.

Fortunately, the 5G ecosystem is moving towards openness, disaggregation and virtualisation – an evolution that suits the potential for private 5G.

The gift for Industry 4.0: Private 5G?

Virtualised RAN elements and mobile core functions can potentially be deployed using high-performance commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, substantially simplifying implementation and management. Converged xHaul (fronthaul, midhaul, backhaul) solutions further simplify an enterprise’s journey by addressing multiple transport network requirements in a simple, converged and cost-effective manner.

The potential for private 5G is immense. What will be key to successful deployments is adopting an approach where networks can adapt and a programmable infrastructure is leveraged, including xHaul routers with support for hard and soft network slicing combined with the broader ecosystem of Open RAN technology partners.

This can provide the flexibility needed to tackle the most diverse requirements of today and tomorrow. Intelligent, analytics-driven automation and orchestration simplify overall network management and reduce operational expenses. And to accelerate and de-risk the unique journey of any enterprise, a services partner will be key to ensure the successful implementation of private 5G networks.

Enterprises can take advantage of this new technology by deploying simple and open private 5G networks that are specifically designed for their unique and evolving business requirements, now and in the future.

Is it as easy as unwrapping a box and deploying 5G? No. But the promise of private 5G holds too much potential for the journey to Industry 4.0 to not be figured out. Ultimately, private 5G networks will become more commonplace given their inherent necessity to tomorrow’s workplace in certain industries and verticals. We’ve come a long way from standard clothing to connected apparel, and industry is set to take a similar leap in connectivity using the right technology and partners to unwrap private 5G’s complexity. 

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