It’s happening. After a decade of hype, enterprise 5G adoption is finally a reality. According to the latest report from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), at least 370 companies worldwide are investing in “private mobile networks based on LTE or 5G,” up from 311 in the GSA’s previous study.
Although 5G stats weren’t separated from LTE numbers in that group of data, GSA did provide these specific figures: 44 per cent of polled companies have already deployed 5G for a private mobile network or plan to do so. GSA says the number of organizations doing the same with LTE has fallen, however, from 81 per cent to 64 per cent. The numbers all point to an upward trend in 5G deployment for private mobile networks.
A private mobile network isn’t the only game in town, of course. There’s also network slicing, which has garnered its own hype as well. Here’s a primer on the differences between both options, plus some of the major pros and cons of each one.
Private 5G networks
Basically, a private 5G mobile network is built using its own spectrum while a network slice is procured from a provider’s public 5G network. Writing in RT Insights, physicist and veteran IT journalist Salvatore Salamone defines private 5G networks as “typically on-premises (5G) networks designed for exclusive use by a company.”
The benefits of an organization having its own private network include:
- ability to customize the network for user needs and application requirements
- greater control over security protocols such as authentication and authorization
- total control of the network’s design, use and access
There are some potential drawbacks, however. A private network:
- requires an initial investment of hundreds of millions of dollars to build
- must have its own unique spectrum
- requires ongoing maintenance for network infrastructure, software and equipment upgrades by its owner
- may be less effective in WAN situations where company employees often work outdoors or where geographically distant branches of the same company need to communicate with each other
Compared with building a private network, procuring a network slice:
- is faster
- is significantly cheaper
- requires less internal IT expertise and resources
- does not involve any network design or continual maintenance for its enterprise users
- may be a better option for companies that are looking for 5G in a WAN scenario
At this point, it increasingly looks like network slices will be provided via a subscription model similar to those for SaaS and other public cloud services. This could offer appealing features for slice customers, including:
- pay-as-you-go, pay-for-use pricing flexibility
- ability to procure slices tailored to specific use cases and fluctuating demand
- an SLA in which the slice provider bears overriding responsibility for the slice’s availability, performance and security
Speaking of security, that’s still one of the major concerns about network slicing compared to a private network.
“(5G) is still vulnerable to breaches. As a result, many enterprises are wary about sharing a network slice in a provider’s public 5G network, preferring to control their own private network,” TBR principal analyst Chris Antlitz told TechTarget.
For examples of how the market is shaking out so far, here are three recent announcements that characterize what’s available right now.
Porsche’s private 5G network
The legendary carmaker has just switched on its private 5G network at its Weissach Development Centre in Germany. Porsche says the network will be used to enable real-time mobile communications at the facility and also develop integrated 5G vehicle systems for future Porsche models.
The news release mentions network slicing will be available “for certain events and projects at the development centre,” but not, however, for external users and customers in the way that a CSP would provide slices as part of its core business.
5G-ENCODE is a public/private partnership (3P) to build a 5G network for Britain’s industrial and manufacturing sector. The project involves various U.K. government agencies as well as companies such as Siemens, Toshiba and Telefonica.
“The key objective of the project is to design and deliver a private 5G network within the (U.K.’s) National Composites Centre (NCC) and explore new business models and 5G technologies, including network slicing and splicing, within an industrial environment,” according to the 5G-ENCODE website.
Phase Two of the 5G-ENCODE network has just been switched on. It’s interesting that the consortium behind the project calls it “a private 5G network” and also mentions “network slicing and splicing,” which many people associate with public 5G networks.
Then there’s Japan’s NTT, which just launched P5G. NTT calls P5G the “first globally available private 5G Network-as-a-Service platform.” Per the company’s announcement, NTT is touting P5G as a platform that:
- “can be delivered via cloud, on-premises, or at the edge”
- “is pre-integrated with leading network and software partners”
- “(is) a single private 5G solution to deploy across multiple countries”
NTT says P5G provides users with “one truly private network, one point of accountability, one management platform, and one solution partner” for 5G. According to Fierce Wireless, P5G will operate on “spectrum in the shared 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band for private networks, using the general authorized access (GAA) portion.”
As you can see, private 5G networks are largely an option that only big enterprises have the resources to design, develop and maintain. 5G slices are a more affordable, accessible way for SMBs to enter the game, particularly for specific events or projects with narrowly defined time frames and user parameters.
Players like NTT are blurring the lines between the two, offering an out-of-the-box way to deploy a private 5G network with many pre-integrated features, while promising customers total control over that network.
One thing is certain, though. Enterprise 5G is finally here and it’s already evolving into multiple delivery models.