opinion


Private 5G networks: inside the operator opportunity

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Arnab Das, VP, Global Service Line, Advanced Networking & IoT, Capgemini Engineering, explores the possibilities presented to operators by private networks.

The global private 4G/5G infrastructure market will hit close to $6 billion by 2024, IDC predicts. Is that actually good news or bad news for mobile operators?

It’s easy to view the rise of private networks as a negative for mobile operators. After all, the more that factory owners, oil/gas companies, electric utilities and other businesses build their own networks, the less they’ll spend with mobile operators. Right? So although many of those companies will still need public networks for wide-area connectivity, the bulk of their local traffic — such as the 1 million IoT devices per square kilometer that mMTC enables — is lost business for mobile operators.

It is not all bad.

There’s a silver lining to what initially looks like a very dark cloud. For starters, a cellular network is orders of magnitude more complex than a Wi-Fi LAN, which typically is the only type of wireless network that most enterprises have experience running. Designing, deploying and operating a cellular network requires an enormous amount of expertise — especially if it uses 5G, which has a particularly steep learning curve simply because it’s a new technology. Many enterprises will choose 5G for future proofing and capabilities such as URLLC.

This complexity and unfamiliarity highlights opportunities for mobile operators. With private 4G, enterprises often outsourced design and deployment to a specialist. In some cases, that was an infrastructure vendor or systems integrator. In others, it was a mobile operator. This outsourcing model will continue with 5G.

Some mobile operators offer private networks as a service, and engage system integration specialists for geographic or vertical expertise. In this model, the operator provides the spectrum and outsources the managed services.

Isolate or Share?

Regardless of whether a mobile operator, infrastructure vendor or systems integrator is doing the work, all of them need an implementation solution that enables the new network to adapt to the enterprise, without having to be re-engineered completely. This can be achieved with software-based platforms that can plug and play on Layer 1, depending on the 5G band and the type of device connected to the use case. Such solutions can address the business challenge and deliver flexibility for global enterprises which may require product customization.

Some enterprises will have unique requirements, such as edge computing and security, that will affect implementation choices. One example is whether to deploy all the equipment on site versus using a shared RAN with a common core, which can have security and access challenges.

Most private network deployments can fit into two categories: physically isolated or sharing the mobile operator’s public 5G network resources. In both cases, an enterprise can deploy a complete 5G network with gNodeB (gNB), User Plane Function (UPF), 5G Core Control Plane (5GC CP), Unified Data Manager (UDM) and Mobile Edge Computing (MEC) within its premises. It also can be a constructible architecture in countries where the private network frequency is allocated by the government, as is the case in countries such as Japan, Germany and the United States. This can particularly well with network slicing.

Why Not Slice Instead?

Mobile operators can provide dedicated ‘slices’ – leveraging existing network infrastructure – to fit specific use cases. As the slices are virtualized, operators can deliver dedicated network resources that are agile to fit diverse types of traffic. So, if one deployment model is sharing the mobile operator’s public 5G network resource, why not use network slicing instead?

One reason is because the slicing business model is based on allocating network resources to multiple enterprises instead of dedicated resources. The latter would lead to either under-utilization or make the service too expensive. For example, the enterprise might not always fully utilize the slice’s resources.

Also, the operator is dedicating the resources to the enterprise to meet its peak load. As a result, it is priced higher to recover the cost and ensure margins on these dedicated resources. In contrast, private 5G networks use dynamic resource allocation that can optimize cost and meet the enterprise’s needs.

Choices, choices, and more choices

Another common question is whether network slicing can improve a private network implementation. The answer depends on the individual business case and market context. Mobile operators have several choices, including managed island networks, MORAN, MOCAN networks, neutral host networks and network sliced private networks on macro infrastructure.

Each enterprise must carefully consider the input cost, overhead, technology maturity and other factors. A knowledgeable consultative partner or system integrator can help the enterprise make informed decisions and maximize its investment.

Finally, mobile operators need strategies and processes for keeping private network costs affordable enough to tap a wide market. One recommendation is creating a dedicated set of tools that are reliable and scalable processes for private network site design, these can include interfaces, bootloaders etc. Have ready-made blueprints and solution templates for certain categories/classes of locations. Ensure that the network has configuration flexibility to adapt to site/region needs.

These can help businesses maximize their investments and significantly reduce delays. A system integration partner with expertise in this area can help smooth the deployment process — and ensure that both the mobile operator and its customers are successful in the emerging private 5G network world.

 

With over 20 years of technology experience, Arnab specialises in global technology products for enterprises and telcos. He helps multiple industries leverage intelligent and connected devices that deliver automation and production/process efficiencies.

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