Public 5G networks are often said to offer the ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLCC) needed for applications as diverse as industrial control, driverless vehicles, and virtual reality-but not all public 5G networks are created equal. In some situations, you may need to build your own private 5G network to reap the expected benefits – or call one of the growing number of system integrators willing to build and manage it for you.
Connected manufacturing systems-called Industry 4.0-rely on low latency to synchronize machines and help them respond to their environment. Delays can mean damage to the product or plant. Virtual reality applications require fast response from servers to avoid nausea-inducing lag between users ’movements and what they see. For those riding in a driverless car, delays in the transmission of information can have worse consequences than illness.
Most network operators offering 5G service today use a 5G NR (New Radio) interface with a relatively older 4G network core, a combination better known as “5G NSA” (non-standalone), that transmits of control signals on the 4G network as data travels through 5G. Although the Enhanced Packet Core (EPC) of many 4G LTE networks is relatively fast, it is not as fast as the new 5G Packet Core which is specifically designed for 5G SA (standalone) networks, and only 5G SA networks can deliver of features such as sub-10ms latency and the “slicing” of networks into the logical separation of services.
Network operators want to fudge the differences, so it may not be clear which flavor of 5G your local operator offers, but according to a report by the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), while 67 operators are investing in 5G SA by June 2021, only a handful will offer 5G SA commercial services, including T-Mobile in the US, China Mobile, China Telecom, China Unicom, and China Mobile Hong Kong. Some others use it for fixed wireless access or claim launches that the GSA cannot verify.
It will be private
For businesses looking to launch 5G coverage on a large campus or an installation such as a port, refinery, or manufacturing plant, private 5G can be an attractive proposition.
Unlike WiFi, 5G has the scope to cover a large site from only a few locations, and the possibility of building a private 5G network means CIOs don’t have to wait for their national network operators. to go around to launch 5G SA in their area.
Private 5G networks can operate on the unlicensed spectrum, as does WiFi, or even on the licensed spectrum if regulatory authorities consider them in the national interest. (This may be the case for ports, for example.)
Its disadvantage is that, without a network operator operating things, someone will need to oversee the planning of tower locations and the installation and ongoing management and maintenance of equipment, something where most in businesses will not be ready. Fortunately, a growing number of system integrators are willing to do the job-and even get to the point where you can order a 5G network from Amazon, including installation and maintenance.
Network equipment vendor Nokia has partnered for many years with Accenture, Atos, DXC Technology, EY, and Infosys to develop and manage private wireless networks, and in February 2022 IBM spin-off Kyndryl was added to that list. It expects them to provide businesses with first and second levels of support, but could step up to deliver a third level of support itself, said Nathan Stenson, Nokia’s global head of partnerships. Its Nordic rival Ericsson works at DXC, as well as at CapGemini, Fuijitsu, KPMG, Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), and many others.
CIOs can also turn to the likes of Cisco Systems, which has partnered with 5G operator Dish Network to deliver enterprise 5G, or NTT, which recently partnered with ServiceNow to automate certain aspects of private network launch.
Stenson’s advice to CIOs is to choose your partners carefully. “We work with all kinds of partners, but the ones I see most successful in private wireless are, as well as integration capability, looking to build some kind of capability into managed network services,” he said.
Connected to cloud computing
One of the most important benefits that standalone 5G networks will bring, thanks to the way they are organized, is the ability to deliver computing capabilities close to the devices they connect. That’s because, unlike 3G and 4G wireless networks, data traffic doesn’t have to be returned all the way to the core of the network before it can be retransmitted. Crunching data from the internet of objects close to where it is generated becomes a possibility, further reducing latency in industrial control applications.
Nokia offers this functionality as a service through its Digital Automation Cloud. Microsoft offers several Azure features related to delivering edge computing for 5G networks, including Azure Private Multi-Access Edge Compute, while Amazon Web Services offers a way to divide applications into between back-end services running in its key cloud computing regions and delay-sensitive functions running in what it calls Wavelength Zones, edge computing devices installed on 5G networks.
However, Amazon is one step further, and is offering a limited preview of a complete turnkey wireless network-as-a-service, AWS Private 5G, from November 2021.
This type of scaled -down service – or something smaller – could be a way to help many more organizations deliver 5G within their area, says Nokia’s Stenson. Offering something that can be sold through regular distribution channels and simply plugged in could just be the way to get private 5G adopted by thousands of school authorities across North America, he suggests. .
It remains to be seen whether such offers will provide competition or an adjunct to WiFi for businesses connecting to branch offices or other locations across the country.