Long touted, private 5G networking holds significant promise for the enterprise, with a very specific caveat: Few enterprises have the IT wherewithal in-house to vet it.
Live entertainment service provider Clair Global, which hosts music festivals such as Coachella, BottleRock, and Soundstorm, is one entity exploring the potential of 5G, kicking the tires of Cisco’s private 5G networks at its Lititz, Penn., facilities. Clair CIO Matthew Clair is intrigued by the improved security, client/device roaming, and range that 5G has thus far provided, but he will continue testing before deployment.
“Additional security is a big one for the Emergency Announce systems we design,” Clair tells CIO.com. “And the technology can also cover a larger area and operate in different frequency than unlicensed spectrum that WiFi primarily plays in.”
Clair’s interest in 5G mirrors that of other CIOs, who are beginning to appreciate the security, robust connectivity, and distributed networking capabilities of private 5G networks amid growing concerns about cyberattacks and the increase in remote workers, analysts say.
“We’re seeing a lot of growing interest in this area, with cybersecurity being at a more heightened alert level in recent times,” says Peters Suh, communications and media practice lead for North America at Accenture, adding that moves to hybrid working environments are also a key factor in rising 5G interest. “That is the kind of combination that makes 5G well suited for addressing some of the needs of the CIOs.”
But there’s a catch: “Most enterprises probably do not have those core skills,” Suh says.
To fill that void, a number of private 5G innovation labs are cropping up to offer “intriguing” opportunities for CIOs that would be very difficult for most CIOs to replicate in house, he says.
Cisco, for example, is not only working with enterprise customers, large wireless carriers, and service providers but also building out private 5G testbeds with Texas A&M University System, as well as labs with Clair Global, Colt Technology Services, The Schaeffler Group, and Zebra Technologies, the company reports.
“Working with a lab like with Texas A&M is a good way for [CIOs] to test their hypotheses and then put it in one of their buildings or their manufacturing sites,” says Suh, who is testing private 5G for CIOs of several large enterprises.
According to IDC, enterprise spending on private LTE and 5G network infrastructure will surpass $5.7 billion by 2024. Industries such as manufacturing, logistics, healthcare, and entertainment venues have been among the top initial users for private 5G, IDC reports.
But with testing and some production environments showing virtually unlimited bandwidth and robust reliability to handle everything from software downloading to 3D applications, CIOs across industries are taking note. KPMG has identified 5G among the top 12 transformative technologies enterprises will deploy within the next three years. And with private 5G networks likely to be more secure and reliable than public 5G broadband, testing for private 5G is ramping up.
5G test beds await
Texas A&M’s 5G test bed at its RELLIS campus in Bryan, Texas, is ideal for IT pros within the military, police, and Texas Department of Emergency Management to test out driverless vehicles and create situational scenarios for first responders and soldiers in a battlefield.
Texas A&M is also working with the CIOs of one Hollywood studio to test augmented reality and virtual reality technologies. Bradley Hoover, CIO of Texas A&M’s RELLIS campus, is encouraging enterprise CIOs to lease the university’s network to test any applications that need significant bandwidth along with security and remote worker support.
Texas A&M Rellis
“5G is a whole other world,” Hoover tells CIO.com. “It’s like going from traditional hub to all the things that you can do in a switch network. 5G brings with it [features] that are much, much better for prioritizing bandwidth to do things like virtual reality or augmented reality.”
Formerly an army base, the RELLIS campus has implemented three private 5G cores — one for testing the limits of cybersecurity and another for military needs. But the third core, Hoover maintains, could be of use to enterprise CIOs who want to evaluate 5G, noting the network’s robust capabilities to handle data downloads and data coming off sensors. One of Texas A&M’s clients used the tests beds to pull sensor data off multiple acres of greenhouses, for example.
“It resonates with folks that have very large manufacturing facilities [such as] in higher education, world stadiums, and if you’re trying to do something very large,” says Hoover, adding that the two test beds have been operational for just four months and will officially open in May. “I think it is based on the type of use case for the particular CIO and their industry.”
Two private 5G test beds — one 1 mile long, the other 1.5 miles long — with accompanying towers may seem excessive for enterprise testing but the vast amounts of bandwidth, robust reliability, and quality of service enhancements give CIOs unprecedented opportunities for testing out advanced applications, Hoover says.
Accenture Consulting also provides enterprises the opportunity to test out 5G in its innovation lab. Private 5G network testing is currently being undertaken by several large enterprises, including Dish Wireless, Omdia, Airspan Networks, JMA, Logicalis Group, and NEC, Suh says.
Getting 5G right
Neither Suh nor Hoover were willing to provide an estimate for the cost of leasing a test bed or testing out applications at their innovation labs. But Peter Kastner, an industry analyst who sits on the board of Ariel Savannah Angel Partners, claims any enterprise CIO would likely enjoy a significant return on any investment deploying private 5G networks.
“USA is well behind Korea and China in public 5G bandwidth, and the catchup tech is not here yet, so there’s little corporate interest,” Kastner says. “Private 5G is interesting in factories and warehouses as machines in motion take on more complex, always-on applications. Private 5G has the ability to blanket a factory with high bandwidth from lots of small antennas.”
For now, CIOs such as Clair Global’s Matt Clair will continue testing.
“We don’t doubt it is ready, but when we stand up these large temporary networks, we have to support it all ourselves because the entire network needs to be stood in up a couple weeks and then brought back down,” Clair says of his efforts to vet the technology at his own lab before deploying private 5G at an event as large as Coachella. “We just like to make sure we fully understand the technology and how it works in and out before putting it on one of our shows.”