Private 5G with 5G New Radio enables quality-of-service-based priority access compared with a public 5G network. This has a huge potential to digitally transform organizations in industrial, healthcare, retail, smart cities, railways, transportation, ports, mining and energy sectors by providing a secure, reliable, low-latency, high-speed network.
Private 5G is a dedicated, independent private network deployed and managed on an organization's site -- or can be a slice of the publicly deployed 5G enabled with QOS or a combination of on-premises and off-site networks.
Depending on the use case, the 5G spectrum used can be licensed, lightly licensed or unlicensed. For privately deployed 5G networks in the U.S., private spectrums such as Citizens Broadband Radio Service allow companies to build their own private 5G networks.
Private 5G is unlikely to replace Wi-Fi. But private 5G can enable real-time deterministic use cases that were previously not possible due to lack of reliability, determinism, low latency and high speed -- especially for IoT and edge computing use cases.
Features of 5G and private 5G industry traction
The enhanced mobile broadband, Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) and massive Machine Type Communications features of 5G open up a wide range of use cases.
URLLC with 5G Release 16 offers time-sensitive networking (TSN) that enables reliable, low-latency IoT in industrial automation and verticals such as healthcare and logistics. Other features such as service, policy orchestration, management and enterprise integration also provide benefits.
For any disruptive technology to get widely deployed, the ease of deployment, management and associated costs become critical factors. And this is where privately deployed, managed 5G can be a game changer.
The complexity of private 5G network deployment for enterprises has significantly decreased, especially with vendor offerings that help plan, deploy and manage private 5G networks on premises. These vendors provide access points, 5G core, SIM management, and overall system orchestration and management. Certain vendors also offer private 5G as a managed service.
Compared with enterprise Wi-Fi deployments, the necessary amount of hardware, software, licenses and cabling can decrease materially with privately deployed 5G, with the added benefit of deterministic performance with low latency, lower power-to-coverage ratio and high speed.
Examples of IoT, edge computing over private 5G
The combination of IoT and edge computing over private 5G can enable a variety of use cases.
Consider an industrial factory with cameras fitted on the production line for detecting mechanical defects in components being manufactured.
The cameras and associated AI/computer vision model that detects defects can run directly on edge computing infrastructure. The advantage of an edge cluster means organizations can run more complex, compute-intensive models for accurate defect detection or enhance the camera's real-time intelligence with additional insights.
The camera can run a lighter AI model that can do early detection tasks. Then, the AI model on the real-time video stream that connects to an edge cluster can run a more complex model to provide more insights and accuracy. Combined with TSN, real-time decisions can be sent to other areas of the production line to remove the defective object, typically via a synchronized robot.
In the same environment, consider autonomous mobile robots with cameras for logistic detecting objects. Navigation-related intelligence tasks can happen on the mobile robots, with real-time video stream sent to the edge computing infrastructure for advanced AI models to detect types of objects and inventory.
Private 5G can also bring benefits to a hospital that provides connected care with the internet of medical things.
An example is continuous monitoring, where a private 5G network can enable remote patient monitoring with various health sensors transmitting low-latency, high-frequency sensor streams to the team of doctors and nurses through an IoT platform.
Private 5G can also enable fast transfers of large files between equipment such as an MRI machine and a CT machine within a hospital. This is especially important during emergency situations where a patient's CT or MRI must be referenced before any next steps -- and time is of the essence.
Challenges industry must solve
Private 5G's potential in enterprise use cases that involve IoT and edge computing is not without challenges that the industry must address; a production-level system requires many touchpoints.
Private 5G networks must be planned, deployed, verified and managed by service providers, system integrators and IT teams.
Edge computing is a combination of hardware and software. Each of these elements can fail, so they must be maintained and upgraded practically without any downtime, especially for real-time, mission-critical applications. Admins must manage edge deployments with containers or VM orchestration.
Both public cloud vendors and managed open source vendors are addressing this space by providing a virtual edge computing framework for application developers. Public cloud vendors have also started to provide out-of-the-box edge infrastructure that runs the same software tools that run on their public cloud, which can make it easier for developers.
The path forward for private 5G and IoT
For private 5G, IoT and edge to be successful, the industry must develop an extensive roadmap. Many of these solutions require long-term maintenance and upgrades.
Organizations interested in IoT and edge compute deployments must contend with the number of vendors, integrators and service providers they must deal with to effectively use private 5G and IoT.
This is because it requires multiple vendors and specific expertise to investigate and install sensors, robots, gateways, edge infrastructure, edge virtualization and orchestration frameworks, private 5G infrastructure, and SIM management. Organizations must also consider edge computing software for IoT and remote device management. Depending on the use case, AI infrastructure can involve a combination of commercial off-the-shelf tools and GPUs for AI acceleration.
Having a system integrator that can be a single point of contact simplifies the challenges of working with multiple vendors. The system integrator must work on premises and communicate closely with the 5G provider, IoT and edge computing software vendor, any infrastructure OEMs, and the organization's IT team to integrate, deploy and manage the IoT solutions on private 5G.
While it's not hard to demonstrate proofs of concept, and they are a necessary first step, the path to getting a fully integrated production-grade system that meets the use cases within the service-level agreement can take time and money. Plus, after the system goes live, it must be continuously managed and upgraded.
It's important for service providers, solution providers and system integrators to not get carried away by the hype or huge potential 5G can enable, and instead stay focused on getting one or two use cases to full production. With the right service providers, tools and business use cases, enterprises can take full advantage of the benefits that private 5G and IoT offer.