The Growing Importance of Private Networks

POSTED BY James Moar
Despite ubiquitous cellular connectivity in many contexts through public cellular networks, this is unsuitable for the needs of many enterprises’ use cases, most typically those with specific requirements for cellular service reach, security, availability, latency or any combination of these.

The development of 4G LTE made Gigabit transmissions possible; enabling diverse use cases for private networks. However, it is only with the advent of 5G technology that high speeds have been consistent enough that the desire for private cellular networks has become particularly widespread.

This is a substantial change from the original vision of cellular networks, where the consumer market was frequently the end goal. MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) and others have now moved towards considering the enterprise market one of increasing importance in the overall connectivity landscape. 5G has shifted this discussion even further, with the introduction of 5G Release 16 allowing for low latency use cases and a far higher degree of interoperability; allowing enterprises with a greater level of network uptime.

The vast majority of use cases for private networks are for enterprise connectivity. However, the main value of these networks will be the services carried out on the private networks, that would generally not be possible (or at least be less effective) if deployed on a public network.

These will vary largely by industry. It is worth noting that, in general, many of these use cases are forward looking, and as such, tend to incorporate a high degree of IoT connectivity and automation use cases alongside more established mobile device usage. However, for several of these cases, the primary end devices will be conventional devices, like smartphones or tablets. This is because the technology is still to a large degree dependent on older devices and use cases. While the IoT is not new, it will be some time before 5G connectivity becomes part of standard construction for devices with eSIMs. As a result, private network use cases will often not rely on new hardware, unless the network provider is willing to custom build portions of the devices.

The ability to automate factories is one of the banner use cases for private networks. The high data rate of private cellular networks means that multiple machines can be controlled and monitored through the same connection.

Automation uses will however require the use of on-premises AI for all but the simplest machines, in order to minimise latency. This will require that network cores are present at the premises in order to keep this information on-premises as much as possible. This will mean that automation will typically function as a hybrid environment, with automation tasks carried out as close to the edge as possible, and other tasks can be sent to the cloud for data processing.

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Related Research: Private Cellular Networks