Private 5G networks accelerate the digital transformation of companies and form the basis for sophisticated Industry 4.0 applications. This is what you need to know about the topic.
What are private 5G networks (Private 5G)?
Fifth generation mobile networks offer very high data rates of up to 20 Gbit/s, extremely low latencies (< 10 ms) and very high availability (99.999%) for wireless communication services. Furthermore, there is the possibility of controlling a previously unattained number of endpoints (sensors, machines, autonomous vehicles, etc.) simultaneously and reliably via a network (massive Internet of Things). With their roaming capabilities, 5G networks simplify the mobility of connected people and machines.
Inside and outside buildings, communication links among mobile endpoints remain uninterrupted without the need for further authentication. With these capabilities, 5G technology is predestined for future digital applications in companies, such as driverless transport vehicles, mobile robots, tracking of goods flows, video surveillance, virtual reality. To exploit these possibilities, companies can set up and operate their own 5G network. The opportunity to install one's own and thus private mobile network is novel. To this end, national regulatory authorities have released dedicated frequency ranges for 5G use by companies on the basis of international conventions. In 2019, the Federal Network Agency made the frequency range from 3.7 to 3.8 GHz available for private 5G networks. From this spectrum, companies can apply for exclusive frequency allocations for their 5G networks.
Private 5G networks will offer crucial competitive advantages to companies in various industries, such as healthcare, transport/logistics, energy supply, industrial manufacturing. The use cases are diverse and involve digital innovations. Manufacturers, network operators and IT service providers are working flat out to develop 5G enterprise solutions. The first private 5G solutions have already been successfully piloted and put into operation in Germany. Private 5G networks are also called 5G campus networks, non-public 5G networks or isolated 5G networks. Compared to public 5G networks, they are essentially characterised by the following points:
Allocation of frequencies for exclusive use;
Restriction to one area of the company (campus);
Own operation of the network components; and
Design for specific business requirements
Private 5G: features and applications
The organisations that specified 5G (3GPP and ITU) identified three main features of 5G that can be used for various industrial use cases:
Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) enables higher data rates for example for high-resolution video object surveillance in real time, events or locations with high user density (e.g. stadiums, concerts, train stations), software downloads for vehicles, transmission of diagnostic/patient data between ambulance and emergency room.
Massive Internet of Things (mIOT) offers the possibility of controlling up to one million endpoints per square kilometre. These endpoints (for example, sensors) have very low power requirements because 5G networks can also process weak signals. Possible use cases are delivery tracking in logistics/transport or health monitoring of patients in clinics.
Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC), also referred to as critical communication, concerns requirements for very low latency and high reliability for wireless automation of production processes ("Industry 4.0"). The control of mobile precision robots or wireless remote surgery are further examples of URLLC use cases.
In addition, MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output) technology enables simultaneous data transmission between numerous transmitters and receivers. In P5G networks, total traffic of up to 1 Tb/s can be transmitted with a maximum of 100,000 connections per square kilometre.
Private 5G offers the possibility for the broad use of augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) in industrial production. Furthermore, the user experience can be enhanced with AR/VR at sporting/cultural events, in museums or at tourist attractions.
Flexible and open private 5G infrastructures
Private 5G networks allow very flexible network infrastructures through network function virtualisation (NFV), software-defined networking (SDN) and open interfaces.
NFV refers to software-based virtual networks that are decoupled from the underlying hardware. 5G applications are deployed on virtual machines and Kubernetes containers based on off-the-shelf standard servers. Network functions can be installed centrally in the cloud, resulting in short implementation times as well as low investment and operating costs.
Architectures of traditional local networks are inflexible and cumbersome in terms of administration and expansion. Control data is processed in each router and switch and is thus distributed across the entire network. In software-defined networks, control functions (control plane) are separated from transport functions for user data (user plane). With SDN, these control functions can be centralised. This considerably simplifies network administration.
NFV and SDN are complementary technologies used in 5G networks. NFV separates software from hardware, SDN separates control data from user data. By combining both technologies, flexible infrastructures can be realised that enable functional and quantitative changes in the network quickly and easily. Based on NFV and SDN technologies, network slices refer to virtual sub-networks that are operated on shared physical hardware and can be deployed effortlessly. Network slices can be isolated from each other, limiting undesired effects (delay, congestion, security incidents) on the network. In addition, network slices can be customised to separate user groups and provide different data speeds, capacities, security features and service levels.
The large 5G providers can offer managed, company-specific 5G services over the public networks (5GaaS), which allow combinations with existing P5G structures. Various hybrid modes can emerge from this, essentially defined by infrastructure ownership, "spectrum ownership" and operator models. Hybrid models allow network coverage beyond one's own campus and can seamlessly connect different company locations.
The flexibility of the private 5G architectures also results from the "anti-proprietary" approach. The functions of a 5G network can be roughly divided into the radio part (Radio Access Network = RAN) and the core (5G Core) with the network transition. In the radio part, the so-called Open RAN architecture is gaining in importance. This is based on virtualisation, open interfaces and open source software. The server hardware for the RAN functions is independent of the manufacturer. For virtualisation, container platforms such as Kubernetes are preferably used.
Will Wireless LAN be replaced or complemented by Private 5G?
Enterprise architectures typically include WLAN networks. The question is what role will Private 5G solutions play alongside existing enterprise WLAN networks? Will Private 5G partially or even completely replace them? Or is Private 5G not needed, considering the new WLAN developments?
The IEEE wireless LAN 802.11ax standard, also known as Wi-Fi 6, can be considered a competing technology to Private 5G as it offers comparable performance characteristics. The technology of Wi-Fi 6 offers higher throughput and 75 % less latency compared to Wi-Fi 5. It also increases security (WPA-3) and reduces power consumption of user devices. However, the maximum data speed of Wi-Fi 6 (9.6 Gbit/s) is lower than Private 5G (20 Gbit/s). Private 5G is also in the lead over Wi-Fi 6 in terms of latency and reliability.
In addition to the performance aspects, private 5G offers functional features that WLAN cannot offer or can only offer inadequately. For example, stable and seamless connectivity with mobile users (e.g. autonomous vehicles or mobile robots) over larger areas or distances outdoors. The data rate to the endpoints can be secured, even with an increasing number of endpoints.
Decisive for the choice of wireless network technology are the future business requirements and use cases of the respective company. Other relevant factors are security requirements, the existing infrastructure and the application portfolio. The required investment and operating costs require thorough calculation and will be a main criterion for or against private 5G projects. Intensive technical and business analyses are necessary in any case.
It can be assumed that private 5G networks will coexist with Wi-Fi networks in companies in the medium term. This coexistence requires further technical decisions. Wi-Fi and private 5G networks can be operated separately (non-interacting) or together (interworking). Hybrid solutions are also possible. mb)
5G technology offers features and performance characteristics for Industry 4.0 applications and other demanding digital applications.
Companies can operate a private 5G network on their campus themselves and configure it according to their own requirements.
Network functions virtualisation (NFV) and software-defined networking (SDN) enable network slices offered by public 5G providers.
Network slices can be combined with private 5G networks. A variety of hybrid models are possible.
Private 5G competes with Wi-Fi 6. For applications with very stringent data rate, latency and robustness requirements, Private 5G is essential.
The benefits and costs of the various solution options must be evaluated on a company-specific basis. Investment decisions should be preceded by careful analysis and planning.