TECHnalysis Research study shows tremendous interest in building private 5G networks amongst … [+]
Now, to be fair, there may have been some confusion among respondents about the creation of private 5G networks versus the usage of 5G networks that carriers such as T-Mobile, AT&T, and Verizon have started to deploy. Based on the responses to other related questions in other parts of the survey, however, the number of people who were confused was likely quite small. Clearly, the buzz around 5G has created enough excitement and interest for the technology that IT managers and other tech leaders at companies of all sizes are eager to leverage it.
Despite the extremely strong interest in private 5G networks, there are still some challenges. First, from a timing perspective, given the practical realities of the pandemic, the amount of strategic and budgetary focus that companies originally planned to use towards private cellular networks has fallen quite a bit. Practical issues like getting laptops for employees, speeding up app modernization efforts, and putting more applications and data into the cloud have taken center stage over the last few months. As a result, plans to deploy private 5G networks are likely being delayed into next year. Nevertheless, it’s still a subject of extreme interest for many organizations.
The other big questions for private 5G are more practical ones: how to do it and what value it can initially provide versus alternatives. From a pragmatic perspective, one of the biggest challenges for any network that uses licensed radio spectrum—as all cellular networks do—is getting access to the frequencies needed to run that network. Until very recently, this was a very big issue because so little spectrum is available for public or commercial use. The only option companies had were to work with carriers on a licensing agreement to essentially “sub-lease” some of their spectrum, use less powerful transmission methods that don’t interfere with general cellular networks, or some combination of the two. The bottom line is, it’s been so challenging that it has kept adoption of private networks to a minimum, especially compared to the unlicensed spectrum-driven options such as WiFi where all the frequencies can be used by anyone without the hassles and costs of acquiring access to one’s own spectrum.
The recent introduction of CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum) here in the US (see “Spectrum-Sharing Technologies Like CBRS Key To More Robust Wireless Networks” for more) opens up a wealth of interesting new opportunities for access to essentially “semi-licensed” spectrum and should help overcome these initial concerns. Consequently, expect a lot of the upcoming developments around private 5G networks to leverage CBRS spectrum.
From a value perspective, the challenge for vendors, carriers, and other service providers that want to pursue the pent-up demands for private 5G networks, will be to explain the benefits that they can offer versus alternatives, particularly against the greatly enhanced capabilities that WiFi6E bring to the table (see “New WiFi 6E Standard Brings 5G-Related Technologies To Local Area Wireless” for more). Generally speaking, 5G and cellular networks in general are seen as having better security than unlicensed networks and, in some cases, lower latency, which can be critical for things like manufacturing environments, but WiFi has made progress in some of these areas as well. As a result, it will be essential for companies to clearly outline the potential advantages of one technology versus the other. Of course, the other practical reality is that the pandemic has forced many organizations to reconsider their connectivity options overall, and many are likely to have both types of technologies, both for redundancy as well as for the potential flexibility two choices can enable. Companies touting their solutions, therefore, need to also focus on the co-existence of these two technologies and how they can work well together.
For their part, many tech vendors seem eager to cash in on the growing interest in private 5G networks, and I expect to see a huge amount of attention paid to this space over the next year or two from companies as far ranging as semiconductor makers, network equipment providers, software developers, server makers, carriers, and more. In particular, it will be interesting to see what opportunities might exist to leverage Open RAN (Radio Access Network) technologies in these newly built private 5G networks.
As the survey results highlighted, interest in this technology is extremely high. Now let’s see where the opportunity for 5G private networks really goes.