The CW Technology & Engineering Conference is about exploring future trends from an engineer’s point of view. It aims to move past the marketing messages and learn more about the “how” of an emerging technology field. The first day at CW TEC 2021: Engineering 5G Private Networks looked at radio network planning, Open RAN and network architecture for private networks.
1. Every private network is different
On this, all our speakers were in agreement. Enterprise clients have a diverse range of needs. Factories may have very strict latency requirements, ports might require universal outdoor coverage, hospitals may have stricter data management needs than other enterprises - and some sites might be filled with trees, creating a challenge for radio planning. Because every private network needs to meet the requirement of a distinct interest group in a distinct location with a distinct business goal, they are all bespoke in design. Or, as Lou Walker, BT, put it, there is no plug and play option for private networks.
2. Most of the technology for 5G Private Networks is ready – but not everything
Starting with the technology that is ready: spectrum used to be reserved for MNOs but is now available for enterprise usage; cores used to be very expensive, but they’ve been optimised in recent years to be enterprise affordable; the ecosystem for 5G standalone (5G SA) end devices is emergent and growing – it’s nowhere near as expansive as the market for 4G devices, but it will get there.
But the standards for 5G are still being adopted. The market hype around 5G has led many enterprises to believe that it is market-ready, but in fact many of the features that target enterprise customers (for example eURLLC, C-V2X, 5G NR-U and 5G NPN) were only released with 3GPP Release 16 last summer. The technology sector is still building this new standard into their offerings.
Network slicing in virtualised 5G private networks is likely 3-5 years away, according to Julie Bradford from Real Wireless, but there are early trials ongoing such as the 5G-MoNArch testbed at the Port of Hamburg. At this testbed, Deutsche Telekom and Nokia have managed to demonstrate end-to-end network slicing with an impressive ability to bring up new slices of the network very quickly (a matter of minutes) without interrupting service.
And there are many challenges still in the way of widespread deployment of Open RAN technology. From the cost and complexity of integration, immature technologies and lack of scale in the ecosystem, the service providers surveyed by Analysys Mason didn’t expect these issues to be resolved for 3-4 years.
3. Without spectrum, you don’t have a network
“Getting the right spectrum and the right frequencies to the right sectors is really important” Steve Evans, Nokia
Before 2019 there were few private networks simply due to lack of spectrum. Allocation had been prioritised for the operators, who mainly serviced the public consumer base, rather than enterprise needs. Ofcom’s creation of the Local Access Licenses for existing MNO bands (lots of equipment available, but MNO permission is required to use) and Shared Access Licenses for four non-MNO bands revolutionised the private network market and uptake has increased sharply since 2019 – in the UK, and in the rest of the world where many countries made similar announcements at the same time. As an example of how these licenses are used, Freshwave adopted a 2GHz Local Access License when designing the network for a holiday park. They worked with an MNO to secure the necessary permissions, using 4G due to spectrum and hardware access. Real Wireless performed a cost analysis of Local Access Licensing versus Shared Access Licensing for different bandwidths and found that, because higher bandwidths come with higher coverage per cell and therefore the need for fewer sites, for frequencies over 40MHz it may be more cost beneficial to opt for a Local Access License rather than a Shared Access License. A curveball in all this is of course MulteFire – a globally harmonized spectrum in WiFi band but with LTE quality. With MulteFire, enterprises can efficiently deploy their own optimized, reliable and secure private network in unlicensed, shared or locally licensed spectrum without the need to notify authorities with regards to spectrum usage.
4. 5G standalone will gradually take over as the standard for 5G Private Networks…
…but for now the majority of deployments are non-standalone (5G NSA). 5G NSA utilises the 4G core to control 5G radio networks. Its benefit is that it doesn’t require network operators to update their cores at the same time as their radio network, so customers can benefit from the high-speed connectivity that 5G offers sooner rather than later. However, with 5G SA, where the 5G radio connects directly to a 5G core, enterprises will have access to the all-important 3GPP Rel 16 features. 5G SA also allows for fully virtualised networks which are the fastest to deploy and very scalable, and offer new services through increased automation.
5. Operators are on the cusp of major Open RAN deployments
Open RAN is an industry initiative that could fundamentally change the way in which the sector designs, builds and tests radio access networks, including for private networks. It is important for the diversification of the supply chain and introduces more innovation and competition into the RAN market.
Mavenir of course are full believers in virtualised networks and Open RAN. They are the industry’s only end-to-end, cloud-native network software provider and their MAVedge solution for private networks in industry and enterprise offers customers a bigger and more open ecosystem to work with, the ability to scale flexibly, options to run the cloud on-premises or in an external data centre, and easy network management.
There is a diverse range of ways that service providers believe that Open RAN can benefit their business, but critically as enterprise networks go mobile-first, Open RAN becomes an important enabler of operator expansion by reducing their total cost of ownership and reducing the time to deploy new services – as well as improving the business case for vRAN.
These are just some of the takeaways from the first day at the CW Technology & Engineering Conference: Engineering 5G Private Networks. Read the takeaways from Day 2 here.