Enterprises and industrial complexes such as factories and airports that require high-bandwidth networks need to have control over the security, management, data traffic and operations of their networks. In the past they have been able to use fixed or specialist wireless networks, which worked well for the application requirements at the time. However, the emergence of 5G brings a much more enhanced level of network control truly in house. With 5G they are able to deploy, manage and maintain their own network, sometimes even using a dedicated spectrum. While some challenges will require innovative solutions such as mmWave, for many enterprises this evolution in network control will enable the use of innovative and data rich applications and to future proof their business.
What is a private network?
A private network is a very specific type of network deployment with several restrictions put in place to enhance its security and functionality, giving exclusive access to a select number of users. By limiting access, it provides enterprises with a significant level of control and security, which is critical for a variety of industrial and commercial applications. In contrast, a public network is freely accessible with very few access restrictions.
There are many variations of a 5G private network, allowing a wide range of use cases to be supported – private networks can be deployed indoors, outdoors, and even at remote locations such as oil rigs. What is common between them is that the manager of the network has complete control over its coverage, performance, and security. It is likely that every network will be different from the next, with a different mix of components and performance requirements. This means that 5G private networks are a very flexible way of meeting industrial connectivity requirements, with support for securing mission critical applications inherent in their design.
5G will accelerate the opportunities for private networks
Private networks are not a new concept and are already widely deployed using other technologies including Wi-Fi and LTE. However, while LTE private networks exist, 5G is specifically designed to support these types of networks. Looking at the direction of travel for existing and future applications we can expect fully virtualised networks to become the norm, which means that enterprise deployment of dedicated 5G networks becomes much more attainable and cost-effective. Crucially the complexity of deployment will decrease with the maturation of 5G, which means networks can have a virtual core, as well as virtualised RAN moving to Open RAN in the future. This will furthermore allow the market to open up to a broader number of vendors, offering customers more choice and flexibility for the deployment of a 5G private network.
Applications for private networks
Private networks are a game changer for wide variety of applications. Any enterprise or organisation that needs an extremely reliable, secure network over which they need some level of control will benefit from deploying a private network.
- Airports: Airports are able to deploy airside or ground-side private networks that are dedicated to airport operations, such as cargo tracking, baggage luggage management or co-ordinating ground movements of vehicles and aircraft. These specialist 5G networks can be completely separate from the public 5G network that travellers use, using dedicated infrastructure where needed.
- Cities: Emergency and public safety services in a city could use a private network for sensitive CCTV data. Looking further ahead to the smart cities of the future, private networks will also deliver the bandwidth and control needed to support automated traffic congestion systems, provide connections for autonomous vehicles and guide emergency vehicles remotely.
- Manufacturing: Manufacturing plants are probably the most mature application for private networks because they have very specific needs around reliability and performance that public networks struggle to meet. If a network connection were interrupted for any reason, the loss of productivity would have a severe financial impact – the control, reliability and security provided by private networks is hence vital for manufacturing. Modern manufacturing is adopting much more flexible factory floors, where workstations need to be more agile, and rapid changes to the layout or work instructions need to be enabled quickly as demands for manufacturing outputs shift. Other applications such as edge AI, 4K cameras for quality control, and AGVs are also becoming more prevalent in manufacturing environments and they need wireless, low latency, high bandwidth private 5G networks to function seamlessly.
- Ports: Ranging from automated and remote-controlled cargo cranes, forklifts, and other vehicles to monitoring the condition of containers via drones and cameras, there are a variety of use cases that will require reliable and high bandwidth networks, as well as the added security and control that private networks provide.
- Railways: Rail operators can deploy their own private 5G infrastructure alongside the train track, rather than having to rely on public networks that may offer poor coverage along the whole length of a train route. This enables much increased network capacity for trains travelling along the route, enhancing the commuter experience by enabling passengers to access all the services they have at home and in the office while travelling at high speeds. Train operators also benefit from this greater bandwidth and control, allowing them to optimise the live condition monitoring of their trains to help improve service reliability.
Overcoming challenges of private networks
The 5G private networks model is picking up speed and acceptance across various applications, as the security, control and flexibility in which operations can be run is simply unmatched by what public networks can offer. However, with a new network model, new challenges emerge, and these are now becoming clearer.
Many 5G private networks utilise dedicated licenced spectrum for their effective and secure operation. However, this spectrum can be quite restrictive in terms of its availability, meaning that only a small amount of spectrum is made available by local regulators for dedicated industrial use of 5G. This will impact the amount of bandwidth available on these networks, and thus support for high bandwidth use cases may not be possible.
Furthermore, those licences are restricted to a specific location and site owner, typically covering an area of around a square kilometre. This means the network cannot be moved out of that factory or campus location, severely limiting the scalability of operations.
It should also be noted that in most cases the enterprises in need of private networks don’t have the telecoms and IT skills within their own workforce needed to deploy, manage and maintain them. This could ultimately result in a poor implementation, leading to security and performance issues in the operational network. The alternative is to outsource the implementation of a private network, at additional cost over a significant period of time.
The role of mmWave in private networks
Private networks built with 5G mmWave equipment benefit from several advantages. The license exempt band functions between 57-71GHz, which offers 14GHz of available spectrum to support data rich applications. Moreover, the license exempt band is free to use in any location and does not require the purchase of a license from the local regulator, as opposed to having to buy small slivers of spectrum as many enterprises rely on currently.
Once a licenced private network is in place, its spectrum is a prime resource and needs to be dedicated to connecting user equipment and enabling the variety of applications. Backhaul, while an essential function of a 5G network, does not need to use the primary network. The unlicensed mmWave spectrum offers an effective alternative for 5G backhaul, enabling higher bandwidth, greater speed, and lower latency.
Additionally, mmWave equipment is incredibly flexible, scalable, and quick to deploy. Our Blu Wireless networking equipment lets customer install mobile base stations that don’t need to be fixed in one location, allowing them to be easily moved around as the needs of the application change.
Using private networks enables enterprises and organisation to take control over their networks, enhance operations and increase reliability and security. Building mmWave technology into these networks has the added advantage of lower up-front investment compared to fibre or mobile networks, quicker deployment, more flexibility of where connection points are placed and enables businesses to easily scale their network as their operations grow.
To find out more about our mmWave equipment and how it can support a private network for your specific application, get in touch with us.