After nearly a decade of planning and investment, 5G is now a reality. But despite all the fanfare and headlines, the average subscriber may not see much of a difference, at least not in ways they think they will. That’s because the real power and excitement lie in what it can do for businesses. For this, all eyes are on private 5G networks.

With a private 5G network, the business or organization owns the wireless spectrum it uses for the network, along with all the other infrastructure. It is essentially a mini mobile network, providing its owners with full control – and isolated from other public mobile networks.

As a business owner, if you could create your very own 5G network – what would that entail?  What would your business be able to do that it can’t do today?  The answer to both of those questions is – it depends. Private 5G networks deliver more bandwidth, higher data rates, ultra-low latency, better security, reliability, and scalability – but these benefits touch different industries in different ways, and many 5G applications haven’t even been invented yet. Let’s just say 5G gives businesses a carte blanche, sky’s-the-limit approach to connectivity. It’s a big enough shift that it allows us to think outside of the box and reimagine what a factory, a hospital, a farm, or a logistics company looks like and how it operates.

Let’s consider two different private 5G scenarios

Industries that will benefit from private 5G include manufacturing, mining, agriculture, healthcare, ports and airports, automobile dealerships, entertainment venues, education and retail, logistics companies, and university campus environments. But the list could go on and on. Here is a closer look at two early adopters:

The 5G Factory

One of the earliest adopters of 5G private networks has been in the manufacturing sector.  According to the Manufacturing Institute, 92% of manufacturers believe the utilization of 5G in their facilities will help improve existing ways of doing business. They see 5G helping across the organization in ways wi-fi falls short, including the ability to track massive amounts of inventory and equipment, easier reconfiguration of production lines, the use of augmented reality/virtual reality applications, and even mobile robots and autonomous vehicles.

The 5G Farm

5G private networks will help usher in an era of precision agriculture. Today, only 14% of food produced reaches consumers, and the agriculture industry is looking at ways 5G can help. Precision agriculture improves the farm-to-table percentage by using 5G to enable connected machines and robots to do many time-and labor-intensive farming activities in real-time, around the clock, even in bad weather.

5G enables smarter data communications between farm management systems and IoT devices such as drones, sensors, robots, and autonomous vehicles that can be used to gather and transmit real-time data to the farmers and equipment in the fields. Does the corn on the south side of the hill need more water?  Cue the smart irrigation systems.  Are soil sensors telling me we don’t have the proper nutrients for the fall soybean crop?  It’s time to send out the autonomous tractor.

Fits and Starts: The Progress of 5G Private Networks

As with any transformative technology, adoption takes time. It took over fifty years for electricity to reach all U.S. homes, and thirty for refrigerators to be fully embraced, but with newer technologies the adoption curve has grown shorter over time.  According to Analysys Mason, the private 5G market will exceed 20,000 private networks by 2026, and enterprise spend on these networks will reach USD 5 billion the same year. That sounds like a lot of networks and a lot of investment, and it is, but for comparison, it’s less than 10% of what will be spent on public LTE and 5G networks over the next 5 years. So, what’s the hold up? Primarily it comes down to three factors:

  • Cost – While 5G private networks offer significant advantages, the cost of buildout is high, especially when compared to alternatives such as Wi-Fi. Right now, only large enterprises can really afford it. Like most new technologies, broader adoption will come as costs decline, and many are predicting this will happen fairly quickly.
  • Complexity – With each industry needing different requirements from its private 5G networks, it’s hard to benefit from economies of scale. And for global businesses, there are various spectrum, regulations, deployment models, and interoperability challenges that can impact rollouts across geographies. What works in the U.S. will be different in China or in Europe. Figuring all this out takes time and patience – but it will happen.
  • Legacy Hurdles – One of the biggest challenges is how do we take a business environment built around Ethernet and Wi-Fi and shift to cellular? All the existing equipment, devices and applications need to be able to perform in a 5G world. That’s a task that requires more than a bit of planning and testing. It also requires 5G compatible products and end devices.

Is There an Easy Button?

The telecom industry is heavily invested in the success of Private 5G – and it is looking at ways to make it as easy as possible for businesses to jump on board. While the fully private network model may seem overwhelming in terms of cost and complexity, especially for smaller enterprises, a private-shared version might be what businesses need to begin dipping their toes into the 5G pool, so to speak.  It’s also the model that will likely involve telecom operators the most. Given that U.S. operators are the primary contractors on fewer than 10% of private networks today, many hope 5G improves this percentage.

The Private/Public 5G Model

While it’s still early days, there will likely be many ways of delivering private 5G, and there may be different shades of how ‘private’ is defined. One of the perks of this technology is the ability for operators to sell slices of their public network. This Network-as-a-Service approach combines public with private. Each network slice can come preconfigured with its own guaranteed SLAs that would be managed primarily by the Mobile Network Operator – yet include all the QoS and security perks that come with the more bespoke version. This would provide an easier on-ramp for enterprises to leverage the benefits of 5G private networks – without all the headaches.  Eventually there will likely be a ‘5G-in-a-box’ type of solution designed for different verticals – checking all the boxes and requirements for their specific domain.

Next Steps

5G private networks offer incredible, transformative opportunities for millions of businesses across almost every sector – and getting there will likely happen over decades. The ability to plan, design, assure and optimize 5G cellular networks will be critical for success, and it requires an expertise in radio networks that goes well beyond the reach of typical enterprise IT teams.

As a leader in cellular network planning, analytics, assurance, and optimization for nearly three decades, TEOCO’s 5G Private Network solutions makes it easy for enterprises to take the next step. We provide private 5G network design, validation, testing, optimization, and assurance delivered as a service, as a hosted software-based solution, or as a traditional on-premises product deployment. Choose the option that suits you best and begin enjoying the cutting-edge technology benefits of 5G.

Read about our 5G solutions, or contact us to learn more.