Moving Past Private 5G Misconceptions to Successful Deployments

Two technicians having a discussion in a server room.

This post is the final article in our three-part series on the state of private mobile networks. The first article discusses misconceptions about technology maturity, spectrum, and cost. The second examines confusion in private network deployment and integration challenges.

Our first two articles dispelled several private wireless myths and half-truths. This third article shares enterprise strategies for maximizing success with private 5G deployment. These are lessons from our engagement and conversations with MNOs, private wireless vendors, system integrators, and enterprises involved in early private wireless implementations.

At the top level, we can summarize the steps to deploying and operating successful private mobile networks (PMNs) whether 4G LTE or 5G:

  • Understand the use case
  • Evaluate spectrum strategies
  • Determine IT integration needs
  • Pick the right vendor-partner and management model

Let’s dig into these.

Understand the use case

PMNs have benefits over WiFi and wired ethernet, but enterprises see the most remarkable success when the use cases match what private wireless can provide — it’s powerful but not a panacea. For enterprises, it’s essential to understand “why” a PMN is needed and what specific workloads will be running over the PMN. If they can understand what connectivity issues the PMN will address ahead of time: reliability and consistency, coverage and performance, and improved isolation, then the PMN project has a higher chance of succeeding.

Specific to the use case, the enterprise will want to ensure that the devices serving the workload are identified as PMN-ready or have a strategy for wireless modems and routers to bridge the connectivity gap. At the same time, the enterprise will need to understand the bandwidth and performance (latency, etc.) requirements of the network and figure out if a 4G LTE deployment will suffice or whether they need or want a 5G deployment.

Evaluate spectrum strategies

Tied to the use case, the enterprise will need to determine if the situation warrants working with a mobile operator with their licensed spectrum, leasing or acquiring a PAL in CBRS, or acquiring enterprise spectrum in a country where it’s available (Japan, Germany, etc.).

In the case of CBRS, the enterprise could start with a proof-of-concept deployment on CBRS GAA first and, based on performance needs, can look into leasing a PAL or obtaining additional spectrum licenses if needed.

Determine IT integration needs

Since this will be an IT operation, the enterprise will need to work through crucial IT considerations, including:

  • Device and user identity management — How does the enterprise manage identities and SIMs? What enterprise directory systems will the PMN need to integrate with?
  • Security and compliance standards conformance — Is the enterprise regulated, or does it have any specific security or compliance needs? And if so, are they specific deployment topologies that must be adhered to?
  • Integrating existing WiFi or wired Ethernet — Are there traffic routing considerations? Is there a need for a local breakout of traffic, which requires the distribution of the exit gateway (5G core user plane function) into specific locations where traffic needs to be processed? Is integration with enterprise network security systems required?
  • Edge computing integration — Does the use case tie closely with a vertical application on enterprise premises? Is there an edge computing stack the PMN needs to tie closely into? Will some elements of the PMN be co-located with the edge computing stack?
  • Assurance and visibility — As with any new network, enterprises will need the necessary visibility to know if the network is running well and rapid troubleshooting capabilities to reduce mean-time-to-recovery (MTTR). Likewise, the enterprise will want to understand how it will achieve end-to-end visibility and performance measurements — particularly the end-user experience.

Pick the right vendor-partner and management model

Most enterprise IT teams are not yet familiar with PMNs and would benefit from picking the right vendor which can act as a close partner in early deployments. Mobile network operators (MNOs) are another option for enterprises and may be able to provide managed services. To determine how to select from a range of partners, from MNOs to global system integrators to network solution vendors, enterprises will want to evaluate their answers to the following questions:

  • Is a spectrum license required? This issue needs to be addressed for US-based deployment for which CBRS is insufficient or not a good fit or in countries for which a license is required from MNOs. In this case, the MNO might be the appropriate partner for deployment.
  • Are there vertical applications that need to be closely integrated with the network? If so, a system integrator might be the right partner for the deployment.
  • Is a direct relationship with a private wireless vendor a more efficient and preferable path? If individual spectrum licenses are not required, an enterprise might be able to keep costs down and drive for fast and efficient deployment.

Regardless of which vendor-partner an enterprise chooses, it will have to figure out what flavor of co-management will be required. Does the enterprise have in-house expertise and need control over select aspects of the network while leaning on the partner for other elements? For example, SIM provisioning or networking policies might be done in-house for expediency, while radio deployment or RF planning might be partner tasks.

Getting started

PMNs are an exciting new capability for enterprises and a valuable complement to or replacement for WiFi and wired ethernet networks. PMNs can unlock greater value in enterprise industrial workloads with improved coverage, reliability, and controls. Furthermore, both private 4G and 5G enable greater flexibility and agility for workloads previously constrained by expensive-to-deploy and hard-to-change wired ethernet networks and poorly performing WiFi networks. PMNs are a new, available, deployable, and manageable option today. And they are worth taking the time to evaluate as part of any IT and network modernization project.

Confronting Half-Truths about Private 5G for Enterprises – Part 2

A blue and green 5G logo against a gray background.

This article is the second part of our series on the state of private mobile networks. You can read the first part of our series discussing potential misconceptions on wireless spectrum, technology maturity, and cost consideration here.

Our first article touched on several misconceptions about private mobile networks (PMNs). This second article address private wireless deployment and integration issues and separates truths from untruths.

Enterprises can’t deploy private 5G on their own

This half-truth is like the misconception in the previous article about mobile operators needing to be involved in PMN deployment. Some enterprises believe private 5G is hard for them to deploy and manage and always requires an integrator or expert assistance. The veracity of this statement, however, is dependent on the nature of the deployment. More complicated use cases and environments may require detailed radio frequency (RF) planning or integration with vertical applications. In these situations, an integrator or expert might be necessary.

Regardless, with vendors gaining experience across diverse deployment and codifying learnings into product features and blueprints, there are now more use cases and setups that no longer require third-party experts. Enterprises can purchase managed solutions for PMNs that they can deploy or rapidly set up with limited vendor assistance. The situation will improve as we gain more collective knowledge around best practices for many more use cases.

Private 5G doesn’t play well with others

PMNs have been accused of failing to integrate well into enterprise IT stacks. WiFi APs and controllers plug right into the enterprise LAN, with traffic dropping straight into their networks. Enterprise ITs know how to manage WiFi traffic, set VLANs and SSID-VLAN mapping, tweak access control lists (ACLs) and install cross-segment firewalls for security. PMNs, whether 4G or 5G, have separate RAN and core components, and traffic needs to be carried from the RAN into the core before it exits via the SGi (4G LTE) on the P-GW or N6 interface (5G) on the 5GC UPF. This setup can break enterprise IT LAN plans if not well managed or planned.

Further, enterprise IT is used to keeping the identities of devices and users in their directories (Active Directory, Azure AD). And WiFi uses 802.1X/RADIUS to authenticate enterprise users and devices. However, with PMNs, enterprise IT needs to work out SIM identity management and correlate across multiple devices and user identities that may access the network both using WiFi and private wireless.

PMN vendors understand these complexities and are working towards more distributed architectures, with 5GC UPFs deployed at different egress points closer to the radio units and where workloads live. Likewise, enterprise-friendly solutions for managing unified identity and policies are emerging as PMN deployment becomes more pervasive.

Private 5G doesn’t play well alone

There’s a misconception that private 5G can never work in a disconnected environment. PMNs that run on licensed frequencies (either from the government or mobile operators) don’t have an issue running disconnected from the internet. Similarly, using global unlicensed bands like 5 GHz doesn’t require permission (e.g., MulteFire, a 4G LTE solution that operates standalone in unlicensed and shared spectrum).

However, in the US, CBRS requires the CBRS Device (CBSD) to conduct periodic heartbeat checks against the spectrum allocation service (SAS) directly or via a domain proxy. If a CBSD does not establish a successful heartbeat for a few minutes, it must stop transmitting. In this situation, a fully disconnected deployment might not be possible. While CBRS vendors work towards solutions resilient to backhaul connectivity issues, some private 5G deployments are using satellite as backhaul. With more low earth orbit offerings like Starlink, pure disconnected operations might be less of an issue.

The requisite 5G network slicing discussion

Almost any 5G discussion is incomplete without touching on network slicing. Some think private 5G adds little value until network slicing is available. This misconception involves a more detailed discussion around private 5G deployment architecture.

The typical architectural deployment for private 5G or 4G LTE is a standalone network – known in 3GPP definitions as a Standalone Non-Public Network (SNPN). This is a separate network from the macro public network. Sometimes, these NPNs may be attached to a macro public network and allow mobility of user equipment between the two via various standard techniques, including the use of a multi-operator core network (MOCN) gateway. These are called public network integrated NPN (PNI-NPN).

There is yet a third and confusing version of what is termed a private network. In this version, the “private network” refers to a network slice of a public 5G macro network dedicated to an enterprise as a private 5G network. This is sometimes compared to what we call private access point name (private APNs) in the 4G world. Only a mobile network operator can provide this, and this is a less typical implementation of private networks today.

In the context of the more common SNPN, network slicing is less necessary since these SNPNs are dedicated to an enterprise, and the performance characteristics for a specific workload are managed without the complication and overhead of network slicing. So, for the typical PMNs deployment today, network slicing is less relevant and unnecessary for operations.

That wraps up both our articles where we covered the top confusing items encountered in our engagements and conversations with enterprises. For the third article in our series, we’ll discuss successful enterprise strategies for private 5G deployment.

Confronting Half-Truths about Private 5G for Enterprises – Part 1

Two women having a meeting at an office table.

With the hype around public and private 5G, it can sometimes be difficult for enterprises to discern the state of private 5G and its fit for different use cases. In AvidThink’s consultations with tier-1 mobile network operators (MNOs), engagement with leading private wireless vendors, and conversations with large enterprises, we’ve encountered several misconceptions and half-truths that need to be clarified.

In partnership with sponsor Federated Wireless and with underwriting from AWS, we’ve put together a three-part blog series focused on the reality of private mobile networks (PMNs) today. We hope our efforts help enterprises in sorting out the wheat from the chaff of private wireless information out in the wild.

Private 5G beckons

Private wireless networks conformant with 3GPP mobile standards were available to enterprises before the arrival of 5G. However, increasing awareness of the benefits of 5G (and 4G LTE) compared to alternative enterprise access technologies such as WiFi or wired Ethernet, along with favorable spectrum licensing in certain countries, has accelerated enterprise interest in private wireless.

Simultaneously, the strong interest from enterprises has resulted in many vendors jumping on the PMN bandwagon, each pushing forward positioning favorable to each vendor. This aggressiveness in messaging has sometimes created more confusion. Let’s dispel a few common misconceptions here and deal with the others in a subsequent blog post.

Technology maturity

We’ll start with three common misconceptions under the umbrella of technology maturity.

Private 5G is 4G in disguise

For ease of reference, and sometimes to benefit from the 5G halo effect, these vendors brand their private 4G LTE networks under the private 5G moniker. Using the private 5G label can lead enterprises to think they are contracting to purchase 5G technology when they are getting 4G LTE. Today, many private wireless deployments — analysts and vendors estimate around 70-80% — are private 4G LTE. Private 5G is available for purchase and deployment, but it may be another year or more before it becomes the predominant technology. Even if the 5G umbrella is convenient for marketing, vendors should be upfront with enterprise customers about what the customers are buying.

WiFi 7 or 8 will obviate enterprise need for private 5G

WiFi is familiar and ubiquitous. It’s also been improving rapidly, with a new generation showing up every 5-6 years with increased speeds, features, and mobility support. WiFi has selectively adopted mobile technology innovations like MU-MIMO in WiFi 5 and OFDMA in WiFi 6, closing the gap in performance (coverage, speed) between the two technologies.

However, even with WiFi 7 on the horizon, there continues to be fundamental differences. These include centralized management of handoffs between base stations, availability of licensed spectrum, and secure identity management. Some of these capabilities are needed by enterprises for specific use cases — high-speed mobility with trains, improved and reliable coverage in interference-rich industrial environments, and extensive coverage in outdoor environments for applications like digital signage.

Regardless, PMNs (both 4G LTE and 5G) and WiFi are complimentary; we expect the two to coexist and thrive in the coming years.

Private 5G has a limited device ecosystem.

There are indeed fewer private 5G devices today than 4G LTE. However, there are sufficient 5G device varieties to support effective deployment in most use cases. For example, numerous 5G cellular modems and routers today can connect industrial and medical equipment to 5G networks via ethernet ports. Likewise, ruggedized 5G phones and tablets are available for outdoor or indoor industrial settings. And the 5G ecosystem continues to rapidly expand.

Spectrum issues

In enterprise WiFi deployment, the spectrum conversation seldom comes up. Sure, IT teams discuss 2.4 GHz vs. 5 GHz vs. 6 GHz and channel conflict and radio resource management, but there’s rarely conversation around whether licensed spectrum is required or whether shared spectrum is sufficient. With private 5G or 4G LTE deployments, the spectrum discussion will come up, and the nature of the conversation will be different in different geographic regions.

Private 5G requires carrier and spectrum licenses to work

Some enterprises believe that private 5G deployment requires contracting with a mobile operator with spectrum licenses. In countries that do not allow enterprises to hold private spectrum licenses and do not yet have shared spectrum schemes like Citizens Band Radio Spectrum (CBRS), enterprises must work with mobile operators. However, in the United States, to the extent that the CBRS General Authorized Access (GAA) allocation provides enough capacity (at the appropriate locations), enterprises can deploy a private network themselves or with the aid of the vendor or system integrator without the involvement of an operator. Remember that CBRS is shared and available spectrum at a location is dependent on whether there’s an incumbent like the US Navy operating in the area and whether priority access license (PAL) holders are using allocated spectrum. Enterprises who need more guaranteed bandwidth may lease from an existing PAL holder if available.

In countries like Germany and Japan, enterprises can obtain enterprise spectrum licenses directly from their governments at reasonable rates for PMN use.

No global unified private 5G model

As should be evident from the above discussion, enterprises will need to adapt their 5G strategies to each country’s specific regulations due to differences in spectrum policies. In particular countries, they will have to work with the local mobile operators; in others, they can obtain and manage their own spectrum licenses. This situation will unfortunately be the reality for a while until there’s (hopefully) a global rationalization and harmonization of 5G unlicensed bands.

Cost considerations

WiFi is cost-effective, costing multiple tens of cents per square foot of coverage. And the price of adding WiFi support to devices is minimal, resulting in numerous devices being WiFi-enabled, from light bulbs to ovens, printers, and even toys. Likewise, WiFi access points (APs) run from tens of dollars to high hundreds for high-end enterprise-class APs.

5G-enabled devices are more expensive than 4G-enabled devices — there is currently a 20-30% premium over 4G models for 5G-enabled cellular modems. And 5G small cells, other RAN equipment, and 5G core software licenses hold a hefty premium over 4G RAN and core today. Current supply chain constraints, which have resulted in higher prices of new electronic equipment, further exacerbate this premium. The price will drop as supply chains return to normal, 5G deployments become more common, and scale economies and learning curve effects kick in.

For many deployments today, 4G LTE provides adequate bandwidth capacity and should be considered as a complement to WiFi. As private 5G costs drop, the enterprise can migrate to a 5G network when an appropriate ROI can be achieved.

There are more private 5G half-truths to dig into, and we will do so in our second article in the series, where we focus on deployment and integration. Stay tuned for the next post, but if you’re dying to get your answers quickly, then you might want to check out the following resources from the sponsors: