Private Islands of 5G

Private Islands of 5G

Island

Manufacturing is seen as a major vertical market for 5G services. Process control is time sensitive and therefore latency dependent. That makes for an ideal use case for edge computing combined with URLLC.  Sensor data is also common in large manufacturing environments as factory floors and large plants become more digitized.  5G was designed to handle his kind of IoT data via Narrowband IoT (NB-IoT) connections with device density theoretically up to a million low-powered endpoints per square kilometer. NB-IoT significantly improves the power consumption of user devices, system capacity and spectrum efficiency. Battery life of more than 10 years can be supported for a wide range of use cases. Moreover, it was designed to meet the demanding requirement of extended coverage in both rural and deep indoor environments.

Wi-Fi is limited by its range, working over a short-to-medium range. Since most Wi-Fi systems are deployed across unlicensed bands, there is the potential for interference becomes greater as more packets share channels. While Wi-Fi 6 helps by splicing spectrum into resources units, but there’s still the spectrum problem itself, “which introduces potential for interference.”

In our blog post Money Talks, we noted that operators are investing in spectrum which is a prerequisite for investing in the 5G RAN especially with small cell sites. In particular, we noted the higher than expected spending on a the 3.5 Ghz CBRS spectrum auction. One of the winning bids was from a company not usually associated with buying spectrum: John Deere. John Deere paid $545,999 for five CBRS licenses in five counties in Illinois and Iowa where they have manufacturing plants. According to a recent Light Reading article:

According to Tami Hedgren, manufacturing lead for tractors and combines at John Deere, the company is currently working on a request for proposal (RFP) for the project to find vendors to help it build these networks. “We want to understand what our options are,” Hedgren said. The company plans to roll out these 5G private networks in 2022.

They are not alone.  Deloitte forecast a bright future for private 5G:

We expect that more than 100 companies worldwide will have begun testing private 5G deployments by the end of 2020, collectively investing a few hundred million dollars in labor and equipment. In subsequent years, spend on private 5G installations, which may be single-site or spread across multiple locations, will climb sharply.1 By 2024, the value of cellular mobile equipment and services for use in private networks will likely add up to tens of billions of dollars annually.

Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) have the expertise to manage these networks and clearly have the interest.  Both Verizon and AT&T announced service offerings aimed at private 5G customers.

Private networks offer more control and security since much of the data and infrastructure stay on premises and traffic does not have to go over a public network. However, these private networks will need to securely interconnect with each other. This may be another strong use case for network slicing to seamlessly link these private islands of 5G.