Source: The FastMode.com
Dan Klaren, Senior Product Manager, Syniverse
Previously we looked at how to set up a private LTE network, with a basic exploration of the benefits of a private LTE network over a Wi-Fi solution. Let’s dive into that even further and ask: what are the types of businesses that should be evaluating private networks? Which enterprises will benefit the most from such a solution?
It’s a basic fact that Wi-Fi is never going to go away. Wi-Fi networks are great for environments where the “tolerance” is high, and low performance or privacy and network security isn’t a huge concern. Thus Wi-Fi can serve as a very flexible and effective one-size-fits-all solution for businesses’ internet needs. Most fast food and casual dining businesses are great examples of this – where the value-add of having a network service for customers is high, but the need for high-speed, security, and network partitions is low. Many hospitality and retail companies similarly don’t benefit much from an intensive private network solution, compared to Wi-Fi.
But once you get to environments where the network is mission critical or there are data sensitivities – Wi-Fi is no longer a reliable option.
Choosing to go beyond Wi-Fi
Recent research from analyst firm Omdia shows that private networks are blossoming, with almost half (46%) of enterprises adopting private networks as part of their IoT strategy and another 40% currently evaluating them. And this trend is only more intense amongst companies that require segmentation of network traffic, high performance and reliability, and improved data security capabilities.
In these situations, businesses will look into setting up an exclusive network for their equipment – separate from the RAN where perhaps an employee will watch Netflix during their lunch. Wi-Fi networks also have very poor roaming capabilities and struggle to handle connections with millions of devices, making them challenging to leverage for widespread IoT deployments.
Though private networks are more expensive due to the specialized equipment required, for many businesses they are the best solution. For instance, a hospital needs all of the healthcare equipment and facility computers to be connected to an absolutely trustworthy network. Healthcare organizations are held to some of the highest standards for ensuring the security and privacy of patient data. The consequences for a network failure are also drastically high for such organizations, where even seconds of downtime could cost lives.
Though not as extreme, airports, stadiums, and other venues have similar set ups – and for security and bandwidth reasons, want their internal equipment kept separate from the Wi-Fi network the general populace uses. In fact, it is due to these very considerations that many manufacturing environments traditionally ignored Wi-Fi deployments for wired networks. But the advancements in private networks offers the same performance and security benefits while also offering new opportunities and features: wider network capability, new administrative controls, flexibility for equipment location, and other new configurations previously impossible.
But businesses currently evaluating a private network over Wi-Fi face a new conundrum: should they get ahead of the curve and explore a 5G private network instead of an LTE one?
Reliable LTE or up-and-coming 5G?
5G networks have taken off starting last year, and the benefits for mobile operators and general consumers has been immense. Thus, for enterprises seriously considering private network deployments, one thought that is very top of mind is “should I invest in a 5G private network?” But for a private wireless network, it is rarely worth the additional investment for 5G over LTE.
The first, and most straightforward reason, is cost. 4G LTE is a very mature technology and the equipment is quite easy to source for lower costs. 5G equipment on the other hand is very new and thus much more expensive. The second reason is simply due to the gains from 5G. Most companies are evaluating private networks to support IoT deployments, and the primary goals of such solutions are often to improve efficiency (54%) or to improve service quality (48%) – and a 5G private network doesn’t offer anything over LTE to achieve these specific goals. Many of the major operational improvements with 5G come from the network core, which are mostly beneficial for mobile carriers and operators from a spectrum perspective. For example, the capability of network splicing for spectrum isn’t beneficial for most enterprises.
Though 5G allows for millimeter wave spectrum at rates up to 500 MB bandwidth, most companies don’t need nearly that much bandwidth. Instead, LTE bandwidths at a 150 MB level, as with CBRS, are more than enough for most use cases. And for those companies that truly need the additional bandwidth, there are alternative approaches that could fulfill that requirement, such as using a 5G radio with a 4G network core.
But that doesn’t mean we can completely discount the benefits of a 5G private network for certain businesses or scenarios. A media company looking into private networks for field broadcast solutions could benefit significantly from a private 5G network solution. The bandwidth needing to feed live, high-resolution video data from the onsite cameras, to the broadcast vans and back to the central company office can be immense. A multi-input multi-output (MIMO) multi-tenant capability for the network would also be beneficial in that situation.
Even after these general decisions, there are a number of key points and business needs enterprises need to evaluate when planning a private network.
Additional considerations for private networks
If your business is moving ahead with a private network solution, there are a few additional things you should consider based on your specific needs. One of the first things is simply the types of small cells a business would look into for deploying a private network.
When specifically evaluating the higher performance CBRS spectrum, there are two general categories for small cells: “A” and “B”. Category “A” is a smaller piece of equipment with a bandwidth range of 7,000-10,000 feet. This category will be perfectly suited for most use cases and enterprise, especially since this type is less regulated and easier to acquire. The second category “B” devices have a much larger range – which makes them ideal for larger outdoor environments where connectivity is needed. But due to the large range making bandwidth overlap or conflict issues much more likely, this makes these types of smalls cells much harder to get through the approval process.
As noted in the prior article, while setting up the small cells is a more basic process of planning out locations with good connections, determining the LTE network core set up is much more complex. That particular aspect of the private network is going to be highly dependent on each business’s specific network and needs. But that doesn’t mean we can’t examine some generic examples as a guide.
Let’s take a manufacturing business focused on automation, ensuring its facility’s hardware and robotics continue to operate reliably at top speed. For a network in this environment, the key goal is simply to ensure a robust network with true redundancy. The company will aim to eliminate any and all single point failures from the network operations to achieve this requirement. Additionally, such an enterprise will ensure that their mission critical systems aren’t reliable on a single point of access to the internet. They’ll cement several avenues of connection to the Spectrum Access Systems and look into Evolved Packet Core providers with geo-redundancy and high availability.
Ultimately, enterprises need to fully understand their specific situation and network needs to ensure they end up with a private network deployment that benefits their business goals. Whether partnering with a vendor or not, it’s this foundation of understanding that will allow a private network to become an incredible tool and IT backbone for their business.
As Senior Product Management Director, Dan Klaeren is responsible for Syniverse’s Wi-Fi, IoT and mobile virtual network enabler (MVNE) services. In this role, he uncovers new opportunities and devises new business and technology solutions for Wi-Fi operators, cable operators, mobile operators, and enterprises. Dan brings over 20 years in developing and managing information technology solutions, which have included senior roles at PricewaterhouseCoopers, Fidelity Information Services and Prudential. Prior to joining Syniverse, in 2012, he led several small businesses that specialized in delivering custom mobile applications, mobile content delivery systems and mobile messaging applications. Dan holds a Bachelor of Science degree in information technology and advanced mobile development certifications from the University of Phoenix, and he is a frequent contributor to the development of Wi-Fi standards for industry groups such as the Wireless Broadband Alliance.