Building a case for private 5G networks

12th April 2022
Paige West

There are several challenges and key benefits associated with the implementation of private networks, including the opportunity to leverage the open RAN (ORAN) approach to networks, explains Neill Young, Business Development at Blu Wireless.

Enterprises and industrial complexes such as factories and airports increasingly require high-bandwidth networks which provide direct control over the security, management, data traffic and operations of their networks. The number of industries where these criteria are required is growing quickly to support the connectivity of new critical infrastructure, including drones, cameras, automated vehicles, and other endpoint devices.

To guarantee high bandwidth, low latency, and good quality of service many businesses are turning to private 5G networks. A private network provides a level of security and control over connectivity and data that public networks cannot offer, along with the ability to support massive data upload to the cloud, and to provide business decision makers with real-time analytics and insights.

In this article, Blu Wireless explores the drivers behind the growth of private 5G networks, along with some of the challenges and key benefits associated with the implementation of private networks, including the opportunity to leverage the open RAN (ORAN) approach to networks.

Data generation or data consumption?

The exponential growth in data volumes generated by endpoint devices on private networks means that, in most cases, data needs to be uploaded to the cloud or edge servers for analytics. In some cases, this data can amount to gigabytes every day.

Solutions that support this massive data upload are essential for businesses as they look to utilise the growing volumes of data for real-time analytics. This likely means that a mix and match architecture of differing network technologies is required to support different use cases.

Many mobile networks, including 5G NR, may not be able to support massive data loads as they are configured to focus on generalised moderate usage of multiple devices rather than a dedicated downlink or uplink, and the network capacity will require specialised network management.

The usage of unlicensed mmWave spectrum for some aspects of private networks, especially when the spectrum provides localised reuse, means enterprises have the flexibility to alter data capacity and paths over time. Enterprises can design networks using this spectrum to maximise the uplink speeds – up to 100 percent of capacity if they need to.

This dynamic is set to define the next generation of private networks, where the ability to design networks that meet use case needs rather than applying technology specifically designed for data consumption will be crucial to future success.

Why ORAN is set to improve the flexibility of private network deployments

Designing networks to meet specific use cases can be challenging within the rigid network design parameters of existing mobile networks. Private networks offer an opportunity for enterprises to investigate new flexible deployment models, new suppliers, and new business processes, with the ultimate aim of creating new efficiencies and raising competitive advantage.

New technologies and deployment models include use of many different features such as network slicing, 5G NR, unlicensed spectrum and mmWave. Open RAN will play a role in delivering these benefits. It is a ground-breaking initiative that enables new ways to roll out 5G mobile networks by opening up previously closed architectures with open-sourced software, commodity processors and standard network interfacing. Crucially, the distributed nature of these ORAN systems provides the opportunity for more system performance.

Virtualisation of the RAN and core brings much more flexibility to private network deployments and could remove many of the constraints that more rigid, single vendor deployments are affected by. Instead, it will allow enterprises to scope their networks specifically to meet their requirements, rather than having to compromise on features and functionality. This opens up advanced application features, such as application specific AI at the edge.

mmWave wireless technologies can play a vital part in ORAN deployments, because they provide low latency and high bandwidth network interfaces that can be distributed over a wide area. This opens up lower cost to where fibre costs are inappropriate.

New and unique use cases

Private 5G networks are enabling organisations to do things they wouldn’t have been able to do a few years ago. In manufacturing, cameras can replace dedicated temperature or vibration sensors, which can monitor small but important changes that might impact production lines.

HD and 4K cameras enable autonomous control while multiple sensors can be replaced with one single hi-res video stream. Analytics can be moved into the cloud, instead of having complex, expensive devices out in the field, providing decision-makers with real-time analytics and insights.

One important use case is in smart cities where public safety services can use a private network for sensitive CCTV data. Private networks also deliver the bandwidth and control needed to support automated traffic congestion systems, provide connections for autonomous vehicles and guide emergency vehicles remotely.

In industrial environments, worker safety remains one of the highest priorities. By combining machinery with cameras, sensors and worker location and tasks through low latency networks, automated machinery and processes are able to adapt and adjust to the workers around them. This delivers a safer environment, which is able to react to the people and workers inside it, with vehicles and heavy equipment able to intelligently avoid accidents and collisions.

The case for mmWave

mmWave wireless technology, operating across the full license-exempt 57-71GHz spectrum band, is set to power private 5G networks by supplementing them with high bandwidth backhaul and massive data upload. A cost-effective 5G deployment strategy, mmWave technology delivers reliable ultra-low latency and high bandwidth performance into demanding applications such as security, manufacturing, ports, airports, defence and logistics.

mmWave solves the challenge of massive data upload by reliably transferring large amounts of data from applications to the cloud, such as from high resolution 4K/8K CCTV and video cameras to the control centre. Where end devices are generating huge volumes of data, it is only mmWave that can wirelessly get that data back to where it is needed quickly.  

This technology also offers the added advantages of lower upfront investment compared to fibre networks, speed of deployment, more flexibility in terms of where connection points are placed, enabling businesses to easily scale their network as their operations grow. Using mmWave for private networks ultimately enables organisations to command full control over their networks, enhance operations and increase much-needed reliability and security.

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