What is private 5G?
Private 5G is wireless network technology that delivers cellular connectivity for private network use cases, such as private businesses, third-party providers and municipalities. Private 5G is an alternative to Wi-Fi, along with other wireless options, like public Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and public 5G.
Cellular technologies require costly, licensed spectrum to operate. Large national carriers in the U.S. -- such as AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon -- have the means to purchase spectrum, build nationwide networks and lease out network access for individual customer use.
In the past, private organizations typically couldn't build their own cellular networks for private use because the costs for licensing and purchasing carrier-grade equipment were too high. This changed when the Federal Communications Commission introduced Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in 2015. CBRS is a 150 megahertz band of spectrum that operates in the 3,550 MHz to 3,700 MHz range.
CBRS uses a three-tier priority concept with the following licenses:
- Incumbent Access installations reserved for government and fixed satellite installations;
- Priority Access for purchased and reserved channel access; and
- General Authorized Access tier, which is unlicensed and free to use where available.
Enterprise private 5G primarily uses the General Authorized Access tier. Organizations can acquire spectrum easily and freely, as well as eliminate a major cost hurdle that traditionally plagued private cellular use cases.
With the introduction of CBRS, established 5G equipment vendors and several startups focused on enterprise private 5G use cases. Most vendor architectures use downsized technology and hardware to meet private 5G enterprise scenarios. Vendors design their private 5G architectures to be simpler to install and operate compared to carrier counterparts. This design enables lower build-out and ongoing operational costs, which makes private cellular a viable option for private ownership.
How does private 5G work?
A private 5G network functions identically to public 5G. Endpoints must be cellular-capable -- and CBRS-compatible -- and connect to the private wireless network via physical Subscriber Identity Modules or embedded SIMs. This gives private 5G operators tremendous control over which devices can connect to the network.
In most use cases, a private 5G network attaches to a corporate local area network (LAN) -- similar to how Wi-Fi operates. Once connected, private 5G endpoints can communicate with other devices on the private 5G radio access network (RAN) itself, as well as other IP-connected devices on the corporate LAN or wide area network.
What are the benefits of private 5G?
Private 5G supports the following capabilities:
- secure access through SIM-based controls and encrypted network slices;
- radio access quality of service (QoS) controls on a per-application basis;
- seamless handoffs between access points (APs) for improved mobility;
- speed, throughput and latency performance comparable to the latest Wi-Fi standards;
- low-power compatibility with battery-operated endpoints;
- mass connectivity on a per-AP basis; and
- significant improvements in range and coverage compared to Wi-Fi.
Organizations should consider control, reliability and mobility as they evaluate these factors.
What is the difference between private 5G and public 5G?
Carriers offer public LTE and 5G services for both business and personal use. Businesses contract with public carriers to connect 5G-capable devices, such as smartphones, tablets, internet of things (IoT) sensors and wireless routers. This is an expensive endeavor, however, as the price to connect these devices costs monthly or annual fees to access the public network. As the number of cellular devices required for a business project climbs, it becomes unaffordable to access public networks.
A private 5G network is more affordable in large-scale use cases. Enterprises build and maintain their private 5G networks, so the cost of adding additional cellular endpoints is a fraction of the cost compared to public carrier services. Additionally, owning a private 5G network delivers greater control over QoS and is easier to operate from a security and data privacy perspective because the organization fully owns and operates the RAN in-house.
Private 5G vs. Wi-Fi: What are the differences?
Private 5G operates similar from an end-user perspective when compared to Wi-Fi. However, distinct differences exist between the two technologies in areas useful for specific use-case deployments.
Some major differences between private 5G and Wi-Fi are the following:
- Private 5G can transmit signals at a higher power rating, approximately five to 10 times higher, so it requires fewer APs to cover the same physical area.
- Roaming between private 5G APs uses a soft handoff mechanism with no data loss compared to Wi-Fi, which breaks one connection first before attempting to connect to another.
- A single private 5G AP can handle more active connections than Wi-Fi.
- Private 5G network slicing capabilities enable more speed and throughput and guarantee QoS granularity and control on a per-application basis.
- Unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum is more susceptible to external interference compared to private 5G, which operates in CBRS.
- Wi-Fi 6E latency and throughput standards remain slightly superior, but private 5G is comparable in most situations.
Private 5G isn't a replacement for Wi-Fi. Most enterprises deploy private 5G in situations where Wi-Fi can't operate reliably. While Wi-Fi is functional in many scenarios, it suffers from several deficiencies that create usability headaches for network professionals who work with and manage wireless endpoints.
Private 5G use cases
Some top private 5G industry use cases are the following:
- industrial plants, manufacturing plants and warehouses rife with interference that require reliability and complete indoor and outdoor coverage;
- healthcare clinics and hospitals that keep track of sensitive data and require seamless mobility to connect hundreds to thousands of wireless endpoints;
- modern smart buildings that integrate large numbers of IoT devices and face difficulties, such as signal propagation;
- school and university campuses that require large indoor and outdoor deployments for staff or student use;
- city and metropolitan connectivity for smart city IoT, emergency responder data access and private citizen use; and
- entertainment venues and stadiums where large numbers of users congregate in condensed and crowded areas.