Tom Wang - stock.adobe.com
For many enterprises, the future of network access rests in wireless technologies.
For years, Wi-Fi has been the go-to method to connect end users and IoT devices to corporate IT resources. However, a growing number of use cases exist where Wi-Fi simply isn't up to the task. Fortunately, alternatives, like private 5G using the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum, are coming to the forefront. Private 5G networks address many of the shortcomings found in both Wi-Fi and carrier 5G network slices.
Let's look at building a private 5G business case that includes the potential risks and rewards of private 5G networks and how IT departments can prove private 5G ROI to business leaders.
Private 5G benefits
5G networks operate on what most experts consider to be next-generation architecture compared with traditional networking technologies, including Wi-Fi.
For example, 5G uses network slicing to identify business-critical or latency-sensitive traffic flows and apply strict network service-level agreements (SLAs) to those flows. Additionally, device roaming between cells is far more reliable compared with Wi-Fi. Finally, a cloud-native, software-defined networking architecture centrally controls the entire 5G network.
Businesses that deploy private 5G networks can expect to receive the following benefits, among others:
- deterministic connectivity for latency-sensitive applications and devices;
- carrier-grade bandwidth scalability;
- simplified client connectivity;
- improved coverage and device roaming; and
- complete autonomy over 5G network integrations and traffic SLAs.
Potential drawbacks of private 5G
As with any new technology, organizations must consider potential drawbacks before they adopt. Some examples include the following:
- a current lack of 5G-capable devices;
- the learning curve IT faces when figuring out how to manage private 5G radio networks; and
- potential challenges when translating 5G network slices into traditional network quality of service (QoS) policies.
While private 5G has a few hurdles in its path, enterprises can build a private 5G business case to identify and more easily overcome them. Many obstacles, such as a lack of devices with built-in 5G chipsets and eSIM capabilities, are drawbacks simply because 5G technologies remain relatively new. Thus, if a valid business case can be made, private 5G networks will likely be highly appealing, regardless of the drawbacks that currently exist.
The proof is in the ROI
Proving ROI for a private 5G network is straightforward compared with Wi-Fi's inherent drawbacks.
Businesses looking at 5G networks are likely in situations where Wi-Fi has let them down from an operational standpoint. Businesses that operate within locations such as warehouses, manufacturing plants, hospitals and large university campuses have long attempted to use Wi-Fi in both indoor and outdoor settings, only to be left with slow and unreliable wireless network access. In many cases, wireless administrators waste countless hours troubleshooting and adjusting settings to make Wi-Fi work slightly better in these challenging environments.
A private 5G network, on the other hand, provides a more predictable and stable wireless experience that requires less maintenance. Stable performance is critically important, as organizations rely on IoT platforms and sensors to handle important tasks, such as physical safety and security of building occupants.
Next, a simple cost comparison of a private 5G network compared with a Wi-Fi alternative shows a significant cost advantage with 5G. With a private 5G access network, a business can expect improved wireless coverage from a single cell. In fact, a single indoor private 5G access point can cover four times the area of a Wi-Fi AP. For outdoor deployments, that coverage could jump tenfold.
Ultimately, IT teams can build and deploy private 5G networks with lower Capex compared to an enterprise-grade Wi-Fi alternative.
Private 5G vs. carrier 5G network slices
Instead of owning and managing a private 5G network, another option is to partner with a large 5G carrier to lease and carve out a private network slice on its 5G network. In this example, a business can use the carrier's 5G network to connect various end users and endpoint devices to a privately segmented slice.
While leasing a 5G network slice from a nationwide carrier may be useful in large, geographically dispersed use cases, businesses seeking an alternative to in-building or campus wireless access networks will likely opt to build and control the network in-house for several reasons.
Some of the reasons why enterprises might choose to build a private 5G network include the following:
- to better protect sensitive data that traverses the network;
- to have more control over network design and AP deployment; and
- to have control over network management.
To better protect sensitive data that traverses the network. Large enterprises often must adhere to strict data privacy and compliance regulations. As Chris Antlitz, principal analyst at Technology Business Research, pointed out, enterprises researching 5G "want closed systems that they control and that are completely separate from the public infrastructure." Thus, having full autonomy over wireless data performance and security is likely a key factor when building a private 5G business case over carrier alternatives.
To have more control over network design and AP deployment. With a private 5G network, the design and deployment of 5G APs can be carefully installed within buildings, plants and campuses to provide an optimal wireless experience. Cells or towers can be strategically located and potentially adjusted as organizational needs change. This isn't the case when renting a network slice on a carrier 5G network.
To have control over network management. Enterprises opting to lease carrier 5G network slices will have little control over the slice the carrier allocates to them. If a problem with the service occurs, it becomes difficult for the organization to pinpoint and remediate the problem on its own. Instead, it has to wait for the carrier to identify and resolve the issue.
Additionally, control over bandwidth and latency adjustments of a network slice are more limited compared with owning and operating a private 5G network. Integrations into legacy networks will also not be possible as carriers will simply dump data onto a gateway of the customer's choosing.
However, organizations can configure a private 5G network to translate one or more 5G network slices with separate SLAs for bandwidth and latency into traditional QoS policies. Only with a private 5G network is it possible to enforce QoS from one end of a corporate network to the other.