By Shahid Ahmed and William Baver
Advances in technology have been keeping organizations on their toes. Even before the pandemic began to make an impact, many companies had already started their digital transformation journeys. But what might have been a five-year transformation horizon suddenly became a one-year sprint when COVID-19 introduced new challenges from a distributed workforce to less accessible supply chains, and generally disrupted “business-as-usual” especially in the Industry 4.0 and healthcare sectors.
Now, enterprises are negotiating the return to the office, managing an emerging hybrid working environment, working through a disrupted supply chain, and contemplating their physical infrastructures, all without sacrificing safety, flexibility, connectivity, and now more than ever – sustainability.
At the heart of this new, future of work, is network connectivity. And the key to network connectivity is a modern network. Often one of the best places to start on the path to network modernization is by implementing Private 5G. 5G has become a transformative catalyst for how enterprises can look at advancing their communication and connectivity footprint across increasingly global operations. Private 5G – where the spectrum – and hence the network and the data on the network – is controlled by the enterprise and can be restricted to a certain location or area, such as a campus or factory.
Critical benefits of Private 5G
Designed to be business outcome driven, the scenarios where Private 5G can truly enable and accelerate digital transformation are around:
- Transporting growing volumes of data, where you need enhanced broadband to manage the limited time available to transport an ever-growing amount of data. Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) will help you download gigabytes of data in seconds.
- Mission-critical applications, to address the challenges of autonomous (or self-driving) vehicles – a classic example of where you need a reliable and low latency network. Ultra-reliable low-latency communications (URLLC) will enable applications where even a millisecond of delay can cost money or even compromise the safety of pedestrians or cyclists.
- Managing devices and sensors, to run a smart factory you need to be able to handle the sensor density increase. Massive machine-type communications (mMTC) can handle the billions of sensors and allow them to communicate more efficiently and freely.
- Prioritizing network traffic, where network slicing provides for dedicated logical/virtual networks for specific functional requirements (for example, eMBB slice or URLLC slice or IoT slice).
Why Private 5G and not Wi-Fi?
Private 5G offers a number of advantages over Wi-Fi and other networking technologies. Two of the biggest advantages are: 1) 5G is much faster than Wi-Fi, with download speeds typically higher than 600 Mbps, and higher than 10 Gbps in perfect conditions, compared to Wi-Fi’s 80ish Mbps; and 2) Private 5G’s range is around eight times farther than current Wi-Fi signals, with reduced latency and better reliability compared to earlier mobile networking technologies.
Organizations, with help from a digital transformation partner, can stand up their own, Private 5G networks. This will change the game because these private, local networks can improve on the services offered by public networks, especially when Wi-Fi is not viable in a large complex campus or an expansive logistics environment.
Private 5G in the real world
Let’s look at factories as an example. Private 5G will be the new standard of connectivity on factory floors, where machinery and sensors will increasingly need fast and reliable connections. The new factory is modular, with production lines designed to be moved around and reconfigured, meaning having hundreds of yards of ethernet cable hanging around isn’t the ideal networking setup. Private 5G will replace networking cables or Wi-Fi, especially in large factories.
In addition to factories, utilities, with vast sensor networks, and the mining industry, with its reliance on huge, connected machinery, are also likely to be early adopters of Private 5G technology. Healthcare, with its increasing dependence on connected devices, is another industry where Private 5G networks are being tested to demonstrate not only their impact on cost, patient experience and even life-saving capabilities, but also their ability to secure the transmission of information across a large campus.
5G is not only about wireless connectivity. When you look at the order of magnitude of performance improvements relating to data throughput, connection density and, of course, lower latency – 5G will support new data demands across core to edge to cloud, and power the extraction of data generated across the chain. If you put 5G and those performance improvements in the context of areas like IoT and AI, business will derive real value from the billions of connected devices communicating, leveraging intelligence, delivering new insight and optimizing in real time.
While, in many cases, organizations will continue to use Wi-Fi in some capacity, Private 5G will be a powerful added platform to drive a digital agenda forward for enterprises.
Private 5G advances sustainability initiatives
A very topical and urgent area where Private 5G can make an impact is in sustainability:
- The digital divide – Private 5G allows organizations to set up networks that provide internet service to the wider community. In many cases, schools, libraries, and even businesses will opt to provide Internet services to their neighborhoods, creating much faster mobile networks than were previously available.
- Smart cities – Private 5G will also better enable smart cities, giving city governments more efficient ways to monitor and create new services for their citizens. Cities will be able to connect their services, monitor traffic, install smart streetlights, and even be able to sense when garbage cans in city parks need to be emptied, for example. In some cases, cities will be able to reallocate budget spent today with telecom carriers, set up their own Private 5G networks, and invest more in other much-needed services.
- The environment – Through the availability of a more reliable, fast and secure network, Private 5G will help factories and businesses monitor air quality and energy use in buildings. (Read, for example, how ASHRAE did this.) Organizations operating in remote areas will be able to modernize equipment monitoring. Better sensor and monitoring of data will enable businesses to make better decisions around their environmental impact.
These considerations are just a few examples of the potential impact of Private 5G. As we enter this new era in which the pandemic has disrupted countries, industries and communities, global enterprises are eager to harness emerging technologies that bring outcomes, such as resilience, sustainability, and future prosperity. We are just getting started on this journey with Private 5G as one of the leading innovations, with so much to discover, validate and build – together.
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