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.
1. 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.
2. 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, look into leasing a PAL or obtaining additional spectrum licenses if needed.
3. 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.
4. 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 that 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 deployments 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.
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.