Satish Jamadagni, Vice Chairman, TSDSI
There has been a lot of interest in “private networks” in recent times due to Industry 4.0 deployments and the “idea” of using mobile networks for “wire-free” integration of applications from factories, warehousing, logistics, autonomous machine deployments, materials processing, etc. With a private 5G network that can enable industrial IoT, the understanding is that factories can also build “smart” features through artificial intelligence and machine learning leading to optimisation in production lines. In some countries, regulators are allocating dedicated spectrum to enterprises.
3GPP has defined the non-public network (NPN) specification that facilitates 5G System deployment for private use. A 3GPP NPN may be a stand-alone NPN (SNPN) or a public network integrated NPN (PNI-NPN), which works in conjunction with a wide area cellular network deployment. When discussing “private networks”, we refer to 5G private networks and not LTE due to considerations of ultra-low latency, reliability and the need to support a multitude of device types.
What does it take to realise the “private 5G network” potential? There are two aspects, the first being secure private connectivity, covering sensors to broadband devices (cameras), and the second being the ability to deploy the right service layer functions to fully realise the optimisation potential for Industry 4.0 or the specific industry vertical needs.
For 5G private network deployment concerns, enterprises have to contend with spectrum issues. Some may deploy on a common spectrum allocated by the government (for example, CBRS in the US). There may be regulatory aspects involved as well. There is also the concern of availability of affordable 5G equipment such as small cells and Network in a Box from network infra providers, and integration of such equipment with the edge IT infrastructure of enterprises.
With WiFi 6 also being a viable option for enterprises to address the issue of “private connectivity”, 5G private networks are more viable (assuming other issues are addressed) due to the relatively secure nature of telco deployments and in some cases the need to be connected to the larger macro networks as well.
For 5G private networks to really take root, enterprises will need viable business models for spectrum sharing, cost-effective 5G network equipment, deployment and maintenance models as well as a flexible mechanism to address the issues of enterprise “data locality”. There are still not many examples in the industry that address all of the issues of ease of deployment, spectrum allocation and usage metering. The 5G slicing mechanism for the private network model works for one scenario of an enterprise using a telco network fully but this still does not provide flexible data breakout options at different points in a network.
The second part of the “private networks” story concerns the availability of a common services platform that can enable enterprises to use the larger app or software ecosystem to enable the needed optimisation for enterprises. The need is for a middleware layer and a common services platform to simplify the implementation and deployment of vertical systems on a large scale. 3GPP provides the Common API Framework to enable a unified northbound API framework acro-ss network functions. These provide general services such as group management and configuration management while specific optimisations are still largely left to the enterprises to manage. There are also a host of other such platforms such as the OneM2M and third-party API platforms, making interoperability a concern. Industry deployment models for specific verticals are yet to emerge to inspire larger deployments.
Let us consider the example of private 5G network deployment by Mercedes-Benz. Private 5G networks are installed at their “Factory 56” in Sindelfingen through Telefonica/O2. The key points to be observed are: Mercedes-Benz would be operating the network by itself, and deciding on what data to collect, the optimisation objectives, and what machines and track assembly line products to connect. The company has indicated that the sensitive internal data that cannot be shared with a third party was the primary reason for its decision to deploy a private network. In this case, the heavy lifting for the success of a highly custom-built 5G private network deployment will be done by Mercedes-Benz. Such heavy lifting by enterprises may not be viable for most mid-level or small enterprises, which still want to take advantage of “private networks”.
For the larger adoption of 5G private networks, viable business and technology models are yet to emerge. Enabling of deployment while also addressing spectrum issues and ease of specific service enablement is key to large-scale 5G private network deployment.