Even as telecom markets globally await the large-scale commercial roll-out of 5G services, enterprises have started exploring the idea of building private 5G networks. Such a network would have a dedicated spectrum (licensed/unlicensed) that provides priority access to a specific set of devices to ensure the lowest latency (5msec), necessary bandwidth and assured availability.
In addition, a private network gives its owner the ability to grant exclusive access to the network to the people and the devices authorised by the owner. Deploying private networks will not only help in enhancing operational control and flexibility but also in saving costs for enterprises along with meeting their security needs. According to experts, if enterprises set up their own infrastructure for captive 5G networks, they can control a large component of the cost apart from customising their networks as per changing needs.
Enterprise use cases
With the emergence of 5G, private networks powered by the technology are poised to drive innovation and enable next-generation enterprise transformation for a growing list of sectors. Several major enterprises have started deploying private 5G networks that have been customised according to their specific network needs. The manufacturing firms, for instance, are focusing on building 5G networks that can optimise connectivity requirements of their industrial control equipment throughout their factories and enable real-time use of robotics and augmented reality for interaction with machines and industrial processes.
In the healthcare space, large hospitals are building their own 5G networks to ensure seamless telemedicine operations. For firms in the oil and gas sector, private 5G networks are slowly emerging as the preferred network architecture as many of their facilities are located outside the range of commercial networks. For instance, multinational energy company Phillips 66 has collaborated with US-based telecom operator AT&T and Accenture to deploy a private long-term evolution network, upgradeable to 5G at its refineries.
In logistics, firms are using captive 5G networks for efficient tracking, monitoring and sorting of their packages and shipments. Moreover, private 5G networks promise enhanced data security as the data is segregated and processed locally. By enabling near real-time communication, private networks also offer controlled latency, a crucial factor in applications such as transportation.
In addition, a private 5G network provides utilities with secure, flexible, reliable connectivity over a wide geographic area. These networks enable utilities to use easy and affordable means to connect their internet of things (IoT) applications to smart meters, transformers, battery-based energy storage systems and other types of grid infrastructure as well as to vehicles used by their mobile workforce. Besides, a private 5G network provides mining and energy extraction companies with the reliable connectivity that they require for industrial internet of things (IIoT) applications that connect to drilling machines, rugged handhelds and other equipment, even if this equipment is underground or in a remote location. Meanwhile, places that see huge gatherings such as universities, hospitals, military bases, hotels, offices, apartment buildings and other campuses, venues and facilities where a large number of people or IoT devices need fast, reliable and secure internet connectivity, can benefit from these networks.
The adoption of private 5G networks is gaining traction around the world as regulators are allocating spectrum to enterprises. According to a study by Research and Markets, the global private 5G network market size is expected to reach $36.08 billion by 2030. It is expected to expand at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 47.5 per cent from 2022 to 2030. The report further mentions that a wide range of industries, including manufacturing, oil and gas, mining, and energy and utility, are investing a massive amount in deploying private 5G telecom services to enhance their overall productivity and operational efficiency.
In 2021, Germany issued 5G private licences to over 33 companies such as BASF, BMW, Bosch, Lufthansa, Siemens and Volkswagen to run exclusive networks. Besides, countries such as France, the United Kingdom, the United States of America (USA) and Australia are putting in place policies to roll out private 5G networks. For instance, the ports in the Netherlands, are already making private use of the 3.7 GHz spectrum band for long-term evolution (LTE) networks to control cranes and automated guided vehicles as well as for low-level LTE-based tracking.
Meanwhile, in the USA, 150 MHz of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum was released in the 3.5 GHz band through auction in the year 2020. Further, organisations such as the Utah Inland Port Authority and Chicago O’Hare International Airport have deployed private networks using CBRS spectrum, plus there are several network trials running on CBRS. Globally, Germany has reserved 100 MHz in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band for private companies and opened up the 26 GHz band in 2021. Up until mid-March 2022, German regulator BNetza had awarded 201 spectrum licences for private 5G networks in the 3.7-3.8 GHz band and 10 in the 26 GHz band. Spain has approved the plan to set aside 20 MHz in the 2300-2400 MHz range for private networks. Similarly, there are several other markets that have set aside spectrum for private licensing.
In line with global markets, the Indian government too has taken steps to facilitate the deployment of private networks. The country recently concluded the 5G spectrum auctions with Adani Data Networks (the new entrant with intentions to set up private networks) buying 400 MHz of the 26 GHz band (mmWave) across six circles for Rs 2.12 billion, indicating that it intends to use the airwaves for captive networks across the conglomerate’s businesses. The new entrant bought airwaves in the service areas of Gujarat, Mumbai, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Tamil Nadu and Rajasthan. Meanwhile, the company is in the process of acquiring a unified licence for international and national long-distance telephony and internet services for the Gujarat circle.
In a noteworthy development, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has expressed its plan to undertake demand studies for direct assignment of spectrum to enterprises setting up captive non-public networks (CNPNs) and has invited participation for the same. To this end, DoT has launched a module on the Saral Sanchar portal for carrying out the demand studies. It has informed that enterprises having a net worth of over Rs 1 billion and willing to set up CNPNs by obtaining spectrum directly from DoT are invited to participate in the exercise.
In a major move, Bharti Airtel has successfully conducted trial of the country’s first 5G private network at a facility of Bosch Automotive Electronics India Private Limited (RBAI) n Bengaluru. The company’s on-premise 5G captive private network was built over the trial 5G spectrum allocated by DoT. Airtel has implemented two industrial grade use cases for quality improvement and operational efficiency at Bosch’s state of the art manufacturing facility, utilising the trial spectrum. In both the cases, mobile broadband and ultra-reliable low latency communications enabled by 5G technology drove automated operations ensuring faster scale up and reduced downtimes. With Airtel 5G captive private network, Bosch Manufacturing Execution System was able to significantly reduce the time taken to assess the quality through automatic optical inspection of surface mounted devices. Further, Nippon Telegraph and Telephone India is in advanced talks to ink multi-year contracts with leading enterprises for offering private 5G managed services across the country.
Enterprises in India are warming up to the idea of private 5G networks. When private 5G is combined with edge compute resources, real-time data analytics can produce actionable intelligence for the enterprise. Going forward, the IoT device ecosystem is expected to mature as more enterprise use cases for private 5G get developed. While private 5G is a new paradigm for network operators, it is also an exciting opportunity for public and private enterprises to unlock efficiencies, leverage data in real time and generate new revenue. Net, net, the concept of 5G private networks holds promise, especially for enterprises, and their deployment is expected to increase significantly over the next few years.