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  • David Howell

Is Private 5G the Future of Business Connectivity?

As 5G expands, how are businesses using the network to connect their enterprises to customers, business partners and remote workers? Is taking more network control with private 5G a pivotal strategy to ensure innovation continues?

One of the core components of business communications is wireless connectivity. 5G has delivered new opportunities but are enterprises looking to take more control?

According to CCS Insight’s latest Spotlight report, the private mobile network market grew 62% year-on-year in 2022 despite the challenging economic climate, accounting for $2.7 billion in infrastructure revenue. This will grow to over $10 billion by 2027. North America and Europe are the largest global markets, but Asia–Pacific is expected to catch up over the next few years — with India highlighted as a vital market.

Richard Webb, Director of Infrastructure at CCS Insight, commented: “Private mobile networks are a red-hot topic, and the technology is taking a meaningful foothold in the market for wireless connectivity. There are a growing number of deployment options available to enterprises in different industries and sizes, fuelling growth. In addition to many new customers adopting their first private networks, more companies are rolling out networks throughout multiple sites following successful trials. Our research shows there are an average of 2.1 private mobile networks per customer, excluding larger nationwide deployments.”

Luke Pearce, Senior Analyst at CCS Insight, added: “Geopolitically vulnerable sectors such as power utilities and military and defence present significant growth opportunities in 2023 as they use increased funding to modernise and optimise their communications infrastructure. In addition, the supplier landscape is evolving fast. The entrance of new radio access network equipment suppliers, 5G software core providers and hyperscale cloud services offering new deployment models will disrupt the status quo. This will challenge market leaders Nokia and Ericsson and drive growth in the number of customers adopting private mobile networks, alongside the rollout of multisite deployments in select sectors.”

All industry sectors are considering how private 5G could benefit their companies. From automotive to finance, fast, reliable, and secure wireless connectivity is the foundation of the deployed hybrid communications models. By their nature, private 5G networks are bespoke to the business employ them. This can mean a level of complexity that business leaders must be aware of. How potential multi-carrier network access will be managed is critical to understand, as is spectrum coexistence.

Bespoke networks

The technology that is driving private 5G networks is also rapidly evolving. Cisco has announced plans to collaborate with Intel to accelerate engineering innovation and drive the adoption of Cisco Private 5G based on Intel technology.

As part of their collaboration, Cisco and Intel will create reference architectures across various Internet of Things (IoT) industries, including manufacturing, supply chain, and smart venues, to scale and expand Cisco’s Private 5G solution blueprint through Managed Service Provider (MSP) partners. They will team with MSPs across the Americas, Europe, the Middle East, and Asia Pacific, customising the solutions to meet specific regional needs and use cases.

Businesses rely on private 5G for secure, high-speed, low latency, and ultra-reliable wide-area connections. To optimise and enhance the performance of Cisco Private 5G to support these use cases, the companies will work together on Edge AI frameworks based on Intel’s Xeon processors, Intel Smart Edge for multi-access edge computing, and RAN solutions.

Intel’s booth at MWC 2023. It includes technology demo showcases on building 5G networks and delivering 5G services, featuring voices from industry partners. The event in Barcelona, Spain, opened on Feb. 27, 2023. (Credit: Intel Corporation)

Intel demonstrated how they support the development of 5G networks with advanced technologies, including 4th Gen Xeon Scalable processors with Intel vRAN Boost.

“The ramp of private networks is filled with promise for enterprises looking to take advantage of the ability to connect a variety of new devices, view and protect data, and offer new services to end customers”, said Dan Rodriguez, Corporate Vice President & GM of Intel’s Network & Edge Solutions Group. “What the industry needs is a simpler path to develop and deploy private networks and that is exactly what Intel and Cisco aim to deliver with our collective expertise, experience and technology.”

“5G wireless technology comes with tremendous value and benefit for business, but it also comes with inherent complexity,” commented Masum Mir, Senior Vice President Provider Mobility Cisco. “We are focused on simplifying 5G for businesses, integrating IT and OT network and security operations, and streamlining management through a SaaS operating model. Together with Intel, we will enable edge use cases for IoT to help customers across all industries go fast so they can digitise faster and monetise more services.”

One vital consideration when developing and deploying a private 5G network is that security will be integrated. Speaking to Silicon UK, Dmitry Kurbatov, co-founder and CTO of telecom security solutions provider SecurityGen, explains: “It becomes difficult to draw lines and allocate responsibility in terms of which pieces of the network should be protected by the mobile operator and which should be protected by the private network owner. This uncertainty regarding ownership of responsibility can introduce more security issues on top of pre-existing threats and vulnerabilities within public mobile networks – for example, interconnect security between different public mobile networks.”

Connecting enterprises

This year’s MWC also saw 5G evolving as manufacturers such as Huawei showcased several new technologies, including three solutions designed for all-optical home, ultra-broadband access, and all-optical metro network fields. While helping operators build E2E green all-optical networks to support high-quality services development, these solutions also support smooth evolution to F5.5G networks, striding to 10Gbps Everywhere.

President of Huawei’s Optical Business Product Line, Richard Jin, said, “From F5G to F5.5G, more than planning the future, we create it. Today, gigabit connectivity is rapidly growing more popular around the world. Looking towards 2025, diversified network requirements will require ubiquitous 10-gigabit connectivity. All industries must work together to embrace F5.5G and stride to 10Gbps Everywhere. Huawei will join hands with global operators to accelerate network upgrades and the application of new technologies, helping operators continuously expand their business boundaries and seize opportunities with ultimate user experience to lead the future.”

Richard Jin, President of Huawei’s Optical Business Product Line.

Also, businesses in the connectivity space are also making alliances to develop complete end-to-end solutions aimed at post-pandemic enterprises. For example, Kyndryl, a provider of IT infrastructure services, and Nokia recently announced a three-year extension and expansion of their global network and edge computing partnership, focusing on developing and delivering industry-leading LTE and 5G private wireless services and Industry 4.0 solutions to customers worldwide.

“As enterprises seek to accelerate and deliver on their journeys towards Industry 4.0 and digitalisation, the effective integration and deployment of advanced LTE and 5G private wireless networking technologies becomes instrumental to integrate all enterprise operations in a seamless, reliable, efficient and built in a secure manner,” says Alejandro Cadenas, Associate Vice President of Telco and Mobility Research at IDC.

Cadenas concluded: “This expanding, powerful relationship between Nokia and Kyndryl is a unique combination of vertical and horizontal capabilities, and offers IT, OT, and business leaders’ access to the innovation, tools, and expert resources they need to digitally transform their operations. The partnership offers a compelling shared vision and execution that will enable customers across all industries and geographies to access the ingredients they need to deliver against the promise of digital acceleration, powered by network and edge computing.”

And what about the near future? “In the medium term, the number of companies deploying private 5G networks is steadily increasing,” commented Trend Micro’s Udo Schneider. “Although many have announced proof-of-concept projects in the past, numerous companies are now deploying private 5G without making a fuss. In addition, information on the number of allocated frequencies/bands in most countries is publicly available. It’s also often cheaper to get frequencies/bands issued for private 5G use in a geographically limited area (such as a campus network) than for other use cases.

Schneider concluded, “While 6G doesn’t exist yet, it’s well on its way to becoming the next hype term. Technically, 5G is highly flexible because everything is virtualised, and it provides a framework to integrate new technologies or features without replacing the whole stack. Therefore, in theory, 5G could cover all future requirements and features without the need for 6G.”

Private 5G is only for some businesses. The cost and potential complexity must be carefully considered. However, enterprises that do take more control can reap massive transformative benefits.

Sharad Sharma, Head of Networks at NTT DATA UK&I.

What is the current business attitude towards private 5G?

“At NTT DATA UK&I, we see Private 5G (P5G) as an enabler for business transformation for customers across each industry vertical. Additionally, telco organisations are seeing it as a great opportunity for them to build revenue beyond pure connectivity, but they need to make sure that they have the right ecosystem in place to support them.”

Can you outline any challenges business leaders should be aware of when developing private 5G for their enterprises?

“Right now, business leaders are looking for a killer app before considering P5G deployment. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that no single killer application provides a return on investment for P5G deployment on the hardware.

“Once a P5G solution is deployed, there’ll be more and more opportunities for business transformation. Unlike 4G mobile private networks (MPNs), you can leverage the low latency and high-speed capabilities of P5G whilst also enjoying its low power consumption. Therefore, we envision long-term usage of 5G connectivity focusing on business transformation: whether you’re looking to build productivity gains, improve customer experience, enhance health and safety, or more, 5G can make that possible.”

What technical aspect do private 5G CTOs need to consider when integrating these services into their broader communications and data networks?

“Not all use cases need 5G. But when you do deploy a new private network, it’s better to future-proof it by choosing a 5G network over a 4G one. However, always make sure to check the ecosystem availability first.

“Different original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) bring a different set of capabilities with their 5G solution. Whether the vendor can support the latency and high bandwidth requirements with the deployment, or not, should be checked during the vendor evaluation. Moreover, some mobile network operators (MNOs) are delivering P5G solutions using their 4G core. That’s not true 5G! We need a 5G Stand Alone deployment to get the true benefit of 5G.”

Cloud services like AWS also offer private 5G. Are businesses looking for integrated services like this to augment their cloud deployments, or are they building bespoke hybrid systems from multiple vendors?

“It all depends on the business scale and requirements. P5G on multi-access edge computing (MEC) with hybrid and multi-cloud deployments will become commonplace, given that most businesses operate in multi-cloud environments.”

What part are private 5G networks playing in enterprises’ post-pandemic digital strategic planning?

“Post-pandemic, businesses have started to think about cost optimisation, productivity gains, and remote working. Whether that includes enhancing the digital workplace experience with 5G, working on remote production, or performing maintenance-style activities, they’ll all need a faster, more secure, low latency, and reliable connection.”

How do you see private 5G developing over the short to medium term? Is the industry already talking about 6G?

“In the short term, 5G-enabled terminals and end device availability is still an industry challenge in terms of delivering 5G use cases. This is improving as the industry matures. I believe 5G is a precursor to 6G, just as 3G was for 4G, in driving the transformation in the industry. While 4G was big for consumers, 5G will drive business changes.

“P5G and MEC are bringing lots of opportunities and we’re seeing the market become fragmented. There’s a clear need for an ecosystem play here, rather than everyone doing their own proof of concept and building applications. We need to create a space for every player in the ecosystem, including OEMs, CSPs, System Integrators, and ISVs.”

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