In large and small spaces, private networks complement Wi-Fi and spur enterprise innovation
During five games in 2022, the National Football League (NFL) deployed private cellular networks across stadium fields to test whether coach-to-coach communication would improve when connected over a private network compared to Wi-Fi or public cellular. After a successful trial, the NFL announced its intent to use a private cellular network solution in all 30 NFL stadiums for the 2023 season — and likely longer.
The NFL isn’t alone in its adoption of private 5G and LTE. The global private cellular market is expected to reach $100 billion by 2030, indicating that countless enterprise businesses see the value of using private cellular as a primary wide-area LAN solution.
Private 5G and LTE networks: the basics
A private 5G or LTE network is similar to the public cellular networks accessible by devices with a SIM card. However, unlike those public networks, it is installed on-premises and managed by an enterprise, which can then control data use, access, and more. Using this version of a wide-area LAN, enterprises own the private SIM-enabled devices, user equipment, small cells, cellular core, and radios, giving them an advantage over traditional LAN solutions.
Let’s look at this in practice. Take, for example, a gypsum mine that would like to use IoT to streamline operations belowground and across a large area. Using public cellular, they may encounter coverage issues and be billed for the cost of sending data to the public core and back — a solution that can also create latency and bandwidth challenges. With a private network solution in place, the mine can customize its coverage and control data costs and prioritization.
Private 5G and LTE networks offer economies of scale, especially considering that one cellular access point can cover the same area as nearly 12 Wi-Fi access points, depending on the location. With the ability to deploy a network covering square feet or square miles, indoors or outdoors, private solutions are some of the most flexible networks to date.
Will private 5G networks replace Wi-Fi?
Wi-Fi is an essential tool in a LAN toolkit. As long as it solves problems effectively, enterprises will continue to invest in it and keep the technology advancing. But Wi-Fi presents its own set of challenges, with “sticky” clients at the top of the list. As devices move throughout an environment, they tend to cling to Wi-Fi access points even when they’re out of reach, causing a loss in connectivity if the distance between the device and the access points becomes too great.
A private network automatically selects the best client for each device while also providing advanced security over Wi-Fi. In many ways, it’s easier to offer top-tier protection over a cellular data network vs. Wi-Fi because it's inherent to the technology, thanks to 3GPP standards and SIM-based security.
Does that mean Wi-Fi is on the brink of extinction? Definitely not.
Private cellular networks and Wi-Fi complement one another in most environments. Let’s look at a manufacturing facility to illustrate this partnership. On the factory floor, there may be a need for guaranteed latency, throughput, and predictability — this is where private cellular wins. In the carpeted spaces of the building, employees may find that using Wi-Fi to connect their laptops has worked great and continues to do so without needing a new LAN solution.
Approaching private 5G networks with limited experience
IT professionals who are accustomed to dealing with Wi-Fi may see private cellular networks as a steep learning curve to overcome. However, that curve depends largely on the size and setup of the network, and most IT teams will find it much more reasonable if they have a basic understanding of LANs and wireless networking.
For those who don’t have an appetite to take on network management themselves, many private networks can be built and customized through a managed service provider (MSP) that provides ongoing third-party support. In the future, much of that management will also be accomplished using AI.
Whether managed in-house or via an MSP, nearly all IT teams can agree that the configuration and deployment of devices on a cloud-managed private cellular network is a time-saver, particularly when you can accomplish activations, management, and troubleshooting of all devices from a single pane of glass.
What private 5G networks mean for future innovation
For many, an investment in private cellular networks is an investment in future technology. Enterprises understand that 5G is the right tool to power their innovations, and they look to private 5G as an integral part of their physical architecture. Warehouses, factories, ports, and more have already begun testing private 5G use cases such as HD video surveillance with AI recognition, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs), and predictive equipment maintenance.
Private 5G provides “clean air,” from a network perspective. Consider the pollution of a Wi-Fi or public cellular network where every device attempts to gain access and use bandwidth. Instead, private networks present the opportunity to control and prioritize access, ultimately segmenting the network for more efficiency. As these networks mature, enterprises will see additional benefits including improved battery life of devices, further reach, network slicing, and more — all fueling new applications.