Open virtualised RAN will accelerate adoption of private 5G (Mavenir on 2022)
Digital transformation, distributed computing and the democratisation of spectrum are driving significant interest in private 5G. Corporate networks are becoming the backbones of businesses. As enterprises digitize business processes, they typically see the need for more wireless connectivity.
5G appeals as an on-premises connectivity solution because it offers range, extended outdoor coverage, high bandwidth, device mobility, reliable network behaviour and unprecedented low latency. It also allows enterprises to connect more devices to flexibly collect and transfer data more reliably than alternative wired or wireless networking technologies.
The supervision of autonomous vehicles in warehouses or automated quality control of assembly lines using intelligent video analytics are among the use cases that are being enabled or enhanced by private 5G.
Distributed computing is another development that is transforming the business landscape and driving interest in private 5G. Edge computing is now enabling new value-creating applications such as video analytics and augmented reality that could not previously reside in the cloud because of their low-latency requirements, nor be hosted on end-user devices because of their size and bandwidth needs.
The promise of private 5G coupled with edge compute will increasingly be realised in 2022.
The third driver for private 5G is the trend in many industrialized countries to democratise access to spectrum through liberalised spectrum licensing. Although approaches vary by jurisdiction, many countries are following the examples of Japan, Germany, the US and UK to make at least some spectrum available for enterprise use. This makes private 5G an increasingly viable and attractive option for enterprise networks.
The concept of a private mobile network is not entirely new: sectors such as mining, emergency services and defence have already deployed private networks based on 4G LTE.
Private 5G represents the intersection of several important technology trends that will impact both mobile network operators (MNOs) and enterprises. Some private networks will be built, owned and operated by MNOs, while others will be controlled and managed by enterprise users, with operators acting as integrators and consultants. This will allow MNOs to evolve from being connectivity providers to being value-added partners to their enterprise customers. Private networks will enable operators to earn revenue beyond the current limits of their spectrum licenses.
The enterprise market for private networks represents a significant opportunity for MNOs and provides a welcome chance for them to diversify from their traditional dependence on selling SIM connections, airtime and data bundles. However, transitioning to a business model based on enhancing operational efficiency or productivity rather than the consumption of minutes or data is still a work in progress.
For public and private enterprises, private 5G is an exciting opportunity to unlock efficiencies, leverage data in real-time, and generate new revenue. Private 5G networks are already helping enterprises in a variety of industries to cut costs, reduce energy use and analyse business-critical data in real-time.
While operators will remain key players, system integrators (SIs) and app developers with either local or vertical-specific expertise will also be important. The key will be in assembling the optimum mix of mobile, IT and software skills.
There is a natural symbiosis between private 5G and open RAN, the highly scalable, cloud first, disaggregated RAN solution. Built on open interface specifications between different network elements, open RAN can be hosted on the commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware or private cloud infrastructures that are at the heart of today’s data-driven enterprises.
Open RAN’s open interfaces will continue to stimulate innovation from smaller, nimble, vendors who are challenging the vendor lock-in associated with the legacy macro-network suppliers. These new entrants are supplying an increasingly diverse range of radio units that will help drive the private 5G market forward with solutions suitable for both mass scale private enterprise use cases as well as bespoke high-end use cases for advanced industries.
Open RAN is also well suited to supporting neutral host solutions which can be used to provide indoor connectivity to high traffic areas such as multi-tenanted offices, shopping malls, hospitals, stadiums and transport interchanges.
During the year ahead, the combination of private networks and Open RAN will give the clearest indication yet of the true extent of the benefits that 5G will bring to enterprises, the wider mobile ecosystem and society at large.