With the further development of the 5G ecosystem, the importance of private networks for enterprises is increasing. A private 5G network is a cellular network that consists of core network servers and cell sites to support connections. According to data from ABI Research, by 2030, industrial manufacturing and power generation (including mining, oil and gas, and logistics) alone will generate $32.38 billion in private network revenue, accounting for half of the total private network revenue of $64 billion. Moreover, after the Covid-19 crisis, enterprise interest in private networks has increased significantly as the pandemic prompted companies and governments to promote and magnify their digital transformation. The concept of a private 5G network is gaining traction in many parts of the world with regulators increasingly offering enterprises the opportunity to purchase their own 5G spectrum and deploy their own mobile networks.
Today, many companies are deploying private LTE and a few have begun to deploy private 5G as well. Although many of these industries overlap in use cases and network requirements, the market opportunity can be divided into three parts:
- Mission critical: Industries that require continuous connectivity, provided by redundant and dedicated resources. Loss of communication network may lead to negative business results.
- Industrial enterprises: Verticals focusing on industry automation for Industry 4.0. This usually includes using time
sensitive networks (TSN) or other means to provide extremely reliable communications with high bandwidth and low latency.
- Traditional enterprises: These verticals require deterministic wireless networks other than traditional Wi-Fi, where redundancy and automation requirements are low. This includes “business” applications, where loss of connectivity can result in lost revenue.
A look at some of the use cases of private networks for enterprises across different sectors…
As hospitals are increasingly adopting digital solutions to provide seamless healthcare services, the need for high levels of connectivity is vital along with the security of connection. To this end, private networks provide a secure private cellular network for healthcare providers to connect test equipment and software. Whether one is using the device locally in healthcare, or remotely, multiple independent access points and seamless roaming between public and private networks ensure a reliable connection. The centralised connection in private networks provides quality control (QC) as well as equipment and user database management tools for laboratories on a single platform. In addition, nowadays patients are more committed to their health and demand greater transparency. As more and more home monitoring devices are carried by patients and inserted into their own medical records, security of data has become crucial. Private networks can provide an advanced proprietary method to achieve this. It allows patients to use home monitoring systems that report to mainstream healthcare systems, and patients can access their records with greater confidence.
The education sector has shifted to remote learning and reliable internet access can be a challenge. As students go online, private network can become a solution. These networks have significant advantage over Wi-Fi as it can be used in a larger range. For instance, with private LTE, students can work as if they were on a private Wi-Fi system that is secure. Institutions that deploy private LTE have complete autonomy on accessibility, how they access the network, and what they do. The network can be deployed in one location, such as a single campus location, or to meet the needs of a wide-area network requirement covering a broad geographic area.
Private LTE is also being taken into consideration to create smart cities. Through private networks, data can be shared and consolidated privately and securely. According to industry experts, approximately a quarter of personal networks can be used via city infrastructure.
Network and shipping hubs
Today, pick-and-ship warehouses and factories are run by internet of things (IoT) devices and sensors. Enterprises are deploying emerging technologies in their
warehouses to equip them with inventory tracking shelves, conveyor belts to identify issues in the shipping process, or smart temperature controls. To this end, private networks can be used for making these functions secure and smooth.
Private 5G networks could play a vital role in improving the density and performance of emerging technologies used in the manufacturing sector. These private networks are expected to be a key enabler of the
“factory of the future” vision, with its high capacity, low latency, support for massive numbers of devices, and IT-like flexibility. For instance, Nokia has been selected by the Toyota Production Engineering Corporation (TPEC) to deploy an industrial-grade private wireless network at its manufacturing design centre in Fukuoka, Japan. Private networks provide robust security because they do not need to be connected to larger telecommunications networks. In addition, they are highly customisable, so they can be built completely according to company specifications without having to choose from telecommunications offerings.
Oil and gas
Enterprises in the oil and gas facilities are also adopting private 5G networks as many of their facilities are located outside the range of commercial networks. For instance, Accenture has been working with AT&T to deploy a private LTE network, upgradeable to 5G, at a refinery for Phillips. Similarly, Vodafone will be building a private LTE network, upgradeable to 5G, for Centrica Storage Limited (CSL), the gas storage and processing unit of UK Centrica. The new private cellular network, at Centrica’s Easington facility in County Durham, will use Ericsson radio and core networking gear.
Another important application for private 5G is in the logistics sector. It is used in
monitoring, tracking and sorting shipments integrated with inventory systems. This could help in improving the throughput of these facilities. The global enterprise business in first-, second- and third-party logistics is looking at the deployment of private wireless networks for seamless indoor and outdoor low latency connectivity. Further, private networks enable ports and airports to connect all devices and people across vast areas to one single network. Fully autonomous 4G and 5G private networks provide ports and airports with future-ready platform for digitalisation and automation. This ensures continuity of business-critical operations, full control of moving assets and data privacy.
Private networks ensure secure connectivity and support a wide range of applications. In this regard, organisations are making sizeable investments in private LTE networks across the critical communications and industrial IoT domains. In developed countries such as the US, Germany and Japan, companies are investing in private 5G networks. It is expected that private networks will grow with the formulation of important 3GPP standards, equipment development and technological advancements.
Going forward, with more spectrum being made available for enterprise use cases, coupled with the arrival of commercial 5G, interest in private LTE/5G solutions will grow. Soon it will become a basis for connectivity across a multitude of organisations.