The emergence of 5G as a transformative communications technology is upon us. And yet despite strong commitments from network operators around the world to deploy 5G networks, public 5G rollouts from national carriers might still be a ways off. Learn how private networks will enable 5G digital transformation.
The emergence of 5G as a transformative communications technology is upon us. And yet despite strong commitments from network operators around the world to deploy 5G networks, public 5G rollouts from national carriers might still be a ways off. Loup Ventures recently predicted that “widespread U.S. adoption of 5G, defined as 75 percent of the U.S. population having consistent access to 5G, is still 2 years away (2022).” But whereas public 5G as reality remains on the horizon, private 5G networks (also called non-public networks) are already beginning to fill the technological gap—particularly in the enterprise, which isn’t dependent on a nationwide rollout.
Not all enterprise 5G networks are—or will be—private, but many organizations will have good reasons to want them to be. By building their non-public 5G networks, enterprises and industries can essentially become their 5G network infrastructure operator, giving them total control over their processes. With that control comes an unequaled level of privacy and security, because data and processes inside private networks will, by nature, be kept segregated from public 5G networks. Private networks also benefit compliance and performance.
Perhaps the greatest benefit of private networks, however, is the fact that they’re often purpose-built and customized for specific use cases and vertical applications. Enterprises are already building foundational non-public 5G networks in anticipation of the Internet of Things (IoT) scenarios involving myriad environmental sensors communicating constantly within a defined geographical space. These kinds of vertically aligned use cases are already emerging to reveal new business models, new kinds of innovation, and new opportunities for economic growth. The rise of private, built-to-order 5G networks could feasibly pave the way for the first real revenue of the 5G era.
Some of the greatest opportunities for private 5G networks will manifest in vertical industries, ranging from industry, agriculture, and smart cities to health care, transportation, and manufacturing. When public 5G networks are ubiquitous, all of those industries will thrive and change the world as we know it. Anticipation is high as we explore the possibilities. The question that private 5G networks pose is: Why wait? Non-public 5G networks have the potential to allow these vertical use cases to thrive now.
As Fujitsu maintains, “private 5G network technology promises to unlock numerous business applications in a variety of industries, such as accelerating the deployment of IoT in manufacturing, creating secure networks for seamless remote operations, and enhancing surveillance at construction sites and medical facilities.” So what are the verticals that can benefit—or are already benefitting—the most from the use of private 5G networking?
- The Automation of Factories and Warehouses. The non-public aspect of a private 5G network instantly brings better security, privacy, and flexibility into the environment, giving companies the freedom to develop specialized in-house solutions more cost-effectively than buying public network solutions. The flexibility of the private network also means that it becomes possible to reconfigure that factory in a matter of days to adapt to dynamic market needs. Factories are increasingly embedding mobile elements (e.g., robotics) that rely on a dependable connectivity fabric to improve productivity, and a purpose-built 5G network is tailor-made for that kind of application. Qualcomm is leading the charge when it comes to the applicability of private 5G networks to industrial IoT. The company recently partnered with Siemens to set up a proof-of-concept project at the Siemens Automotive Test Center in Nuremberg, Germany, to demonstrate a private 5G network in a real industrial environment.
- The Rise of Smart Campuses. Whereas in the past, the construction of campus involved the implementation of complicated wiring solutions and connectivity equipment, the private 5G network will eliminate the need for that kind of wired infrastructure, replacing it with secure, ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency 5G NR links. In most cases, the network operator and the application’s host will strike a B2B business model for the site, wherein the key performance indicators will be mutually agreed upon in advance. Imagine a permanent or even temporary “campus”—say, a tech conference or music festival or sporting event—powered by a non-public 5G network, serving specific users with focused services, proportioned capacity, individualized speed, and latency requirements, and maximum security.
- The Control and Security of Ports and Airports. Ports are ideal use cases because of the inherent need to keep track of and communicate with countless people and pieces of equipment in a controlled, secure environment. There are potentially millions of sensitive data points to be accounted for within a small geographic area. Nokia, for example, is already offering an industrial-grade private networking solution for airports that provides a “dedicated, 5G-ready operational network that delivers the reliability, predictability and low latency” for critical operational services and applications.
According to Rohde & Schwarz’s Basavaraju Mahesh, “The rich feature set and roadmap of 5G NR and the fact that it’s the first technology to be built around specific use cases means that the adoption of 5G into newer verticals happens more quickly, and it is also the key success factor for 5G. Other important verticals where 5G could bring revolution are autonomous driving and 5G broadcast.” These are precisely the types of vertical use cases for which 5G is the obvious and only choice; legacy or alternative technologies such as 4G LTE and Wi-Fi—and, in some cases, even public 5G—aren’t going to cut it. Private 5G networks alone will offer the precise levels of flexibility, security, and control to these unique circumstances.
With the advent of 5G and its penetration into these verticals, the 5G Alliance for Connected Industries and Automation (5G-ACIA) was formed, bringing together the operational technology (OT) players and the information and communication technology (ICT) players—potential users of 5G technology for industrial applications and companies that offer 5G communications technology. The goal is to incorporate the interests of Industry 4.0 applications in the ongoing development of 5G technology. Rohde & Schwarz is active in 5G ACIA, primarily in the Validation and Tests working group. The fact that there is a dedicated test group in 5G ACIA shows the importance of test and measurement for Industry 4.0.
Private mobile networks have been around for a while. Countries in the Asia-Pacific region—in particular, China, Japan, South Korea, Malaysia—have long championed non-public 4G LTE networks for specific use cases within various industries, and today those same nations are taking the lead in 5G digital transformations by way of private networks.
Last year, according to Bloomberg, the Korea Military Academy installed a non-public 5G network in its northern Seoul campus to provide mixed-reality military training programs, focusing on shooting and tactical simulations. In Taiwan, manufacturing giant Hon Hai plans to deploy its private networking equipment to run 5G trials in 38 factories across China, using its self-developed core network and small base stations. Hon Hai has been developing the equipment and software for the past 3 years. In Japan, Fujitsu is poised to begin operating a private 5G network at its Shin-Kawasaki Technology Square office, with plans to strengthen security in an area of 28,000 square meters at the site. The company wants to “create a system using artificial intelligence for the transmission of high-definition images collected by multi-point cameras.”
“The Asia-Pacific region has always been an important market for Rohde & Schwarz,” says Mahesh. “For many years, Rohde & Schwarz has been an extremely successful test-and-measurement instrumentation vendor for various Asia-Pacific electronics manufacturers, and has seen their innovations firsthand.” Today, as production floors in the region increasingly adopt process automation and reap the benefits of Industry 4.0—and as more and more Asian cities are leveraging 5G for digital transformation in their smart city journey—Rohde & Schwarz is well-positioned to support these burgeoning verticals.
Private 5G networks have also gained traction in Europe, especially for Industrial 4.0 and smart grid applications. Countries such as Belgium, France, Germany, Netherlands, Norway, and Sweden are all working on noteworthy non-public 5G network projects. A noteworthy case study can be found at Mercedes-Benz’s new-build plant in Germany: As of mid-2019, all production systems and machines at the plant are powered by a private 5G network, focusing on factory automation and the production of autonomous vehicles.
Although these are promising early signs that private 5G networking will be successful, there are inevitable challenges that need to be addressed before it can become a widely accepted, scalable solution. The primary challenge is spectrum availability. Private networks will adopt both licensed and unlicensed spectrum—or a combination of both—but the lingering question is: Where will the spectrum come from?
To address the spectrum challenge, many countries’ regulatory bodies are allocating specific frequency ranges for private networks, either dedicated or shared. For example, in Hong Kong—according to a GSA’s February 2020 “Private LTE & 5G Networks” report—the Office of the Communications Authority (OFCA) announced that it would make 400 MHz in the 27.95–28.35 GHz range available for 5G networking through geographic sharing. The regulator will also devote spectrum at 617–698 MHz and 703–803 MHz to indoor mobile services. In Japan, the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Communications is making spectrum spans 28.2–28.3 GHz available for broadband fixed wireless services. In the United Kingdom, the Office of Communications has initiated spectrum sharing with localized licensing of key spectrum bands for private network operators such as enterprises and utilities on a first-come, first-served basis. And in the United States, Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at 3.5 GHz is about to become available, including for private networks; millimeter-wave is also in the discussion.
The market may see increasing availability of spectrum for specific industrial or enterprise applications, subject to availability. Governments and regulators around the globe will need to continue to make these determinations case by case—how much spectrum to allocate, which bands to make available, and how to make it available. Potentially exacerbating the spectrum problem, regional and national regulators might be tempted to inflate 5G spectrum prices, thereby limiting essential investment and increasing costs. As long as regulators take an approach that facilitates the growth of private networks, digital transformations will see a significant jump.
Another challenge will be how companies decide to deploy their private networks. There are a few approaches, depending on the size and scope of the project, as well as level of expertise. Enterprise-level organizations might be equipped to install their private network using existing infrastructure, but small-to-midsized companies will face the prospect of building the network from scratch, from acquiring hardware to hiring (or outsourcing) a management team to finding available spectrum. At the same time, managed options will become a popular option for those companies who prefer partnering with experts, exploring custom options, and handing off difficult tasks to focus on business goals.
Private 5G networks will never represent a wholesale replacement of public 5G networks, but they offer an intriguing alternative for certain use cases, bringing enhanced levels of performance, security, and flexibility to the table. Early successes overseas, as well as new spectrum and deployment tactics, suggest that non-public 5G networks could pave the way for aggressive digital transformation shortly.
Rohde & Schwarz is well-positioned as a true partner in the testing of private networks and enabling digital transformation in by 5G age. We offer test and measurement solutions to ensure wireless connectivity, and our portfolio includes solutions for network benchmarking to performing coverage measurement and also solutions to ensure terminal device performance required by industrial applications. Our primary focus in wireless connectivity for Industry 4.0, and we approach it from two angles—the network side and the device side. On the network side, Rohde & Schwarz’s solutions offer continuous service quality monitoring combined with machine learning to proactively ensure high reliability. We measure various KPIs such as signal-to-interference-plus-noise (SINR) and quality of service (QoS), as well as RF emission and coexisting technologies in the vicinity. On the device side, Rohde & Schwarz pays close attention to the performance of wireless modules in real environments, channel-sounding and stress-testing them to ensure that they adhere to proven standards and cellular specifications.
Rohde & Schwarz is already positioned to be central to the rise of private 5G networks as we move forward into an exciting future. More than any other participating vendor, we understand the importance of developing efficient test metrics to meet the high requirements of private networks about reliability, latency, and security.
Source: Rohde & Schwarz