Private 5G provides a business-optimized solution for modern enterprise networking
With its low latency, accelerated speeds, and increased security and bandwidth, 5G has enterprise businesses clamoring for accelerated digital transformation. Some organizations are even more excited about using 5G through a private cellular network, with the promise of additional layers of control, security, and automation.
Polaris Market Research estimates the U.S. 5G enterprise private network market will reach more than $13.92 billion by 2028. If that prediction holds true, IT departments in manufacturing, transportation, municipalities, hospitality, and more will need to know how to build a private 5G network.
What is private 5G and how does it compare to public cellular and Wi-Fi?
When it comes to choosing an enterprise local area network (LAN) that best suits your business needs in large spaces, no solution is inherently better or worse than another. Rather, private 5G and LTE, public cellular, and Wi-Fi are each optimized for different use cases and may be implemented alone or combined with other networking solutions.
Wi-Fi has made great strides since its inception. When designed and deployed properly, it is a reliable, governable networking solution that caters to a broad device ecosystem. However, Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum that falls between the 2.4-6 GHz bands. These bands are particularly prone to interference. On top of potential network interference, Wi-Fi lacks the ability to support coverage and capacity needs for large enterprise deployments.
Public cellular networks
Coverage and mobility are key differentiators for public cellular, especially in outdoor environments. Although a cellular access point — also known as a small cell — can cover up to 10 times the area of a Wi-Fi access point and public cellular network coverage is virtually ubiquitous, enterprise users do not control the networks and are susceptible to throttling and their devices or applications may not always have priority which can greatly impact their quality of experience (QoE). Additionally, if there is a use case such as distance education or video security that requires a large amount of data, those costs can add up quickly.
Private 5G or LTE networks
A private cellular network is the “sweet spot” between Wi-Fi and public cellular. Optimized for business-critical applications, private 5G and LTE offer Wi-Fi-like control of the network, and the broad coverage and capacity historically available only through public cellular. Private networks are secure, reliable, expansive, and predictable, making them an optimal solution for futureproofing and scale.
While a private 5G network is ideal for supporting applications and devices such as security cameras, connected workers, IoT, and many others, enterprise businesses can benefit from building a network that combines elements of both private cellular and Wi-Fi.
How to build a private 5G network
The process of building an LTE or 5G enterprise private network is similar to other infrastructure investments such as Wi-Fi, and fortunately it doesn’t require a doctorate degree in network engineering to get started. Here are the key steps:
Make a plan
While the prospect of allocating budget shares to new networking equipment is enticing, don’t make a move until you’ve determined what problems you’re trying to solve with a private cellular network. Clearly defining the use cases and key performance indicators (KPIs) will lay the foundation for a successful private network launch.
Conduct a site survey
An initial site survey can be completed remotely or on site. The purpose of this survey is to review the use case and — based off that proposal — determine the coverage area and equipment needed to support it. Surveyors will use a radio frequency (RF) planning tool to determine the best placement of cellular access points while accommodating for the outdoor environment, walls, windows, signal obstructions, and infrastructure challenges that may block or degrade signals.
The outcome of the site survey provides an initial bill of materials to help the business understand the total cost of cellular access points, infrastructure like cable or fiber, power requirements, and other considerations in order to build an LTE or 5G enterprise private network.
Once the necessary equipment is procured and deployed, a post-deployment verification should be performed to ensure cellular access points are propagating signals as intended. If not, cellular access points can be added or relocated to accommodate for the coverage, capacity, and speeds required to support the end devices.
Following the review of cellular access points, IT teams should also revisit the established KPIs to determine if the original network solution should be recalibrated to meet the business requirements.
Managing and controlling a private 5G network
Most enterprises will deploy a proof of concept to monitor and tweak before scaling their networking solution. When the time comes to expand, it’s vital to have a network management system in place that allows IT specialists to centrally monitor, troubleshoot, and control the network, regardless of size or location.
A cloud-native management system for private cellular networks gives teams the ability to view the network from end –to end — including the routers, access points, and SIM cards — enabling enterprise-level control over the security, quality of service, and quality of experience for devices, applications, and users.