Practical steps to implementing private 5G: Case study on manufacturing
Private 5G is one of the critical enablers of industry 4.0 use cases. Despite the significant buzz it has created, understanding of private 5G is still lacking and enterprises are oftentimes unclear on whether it’s the right connectivity solution for them. This article aims at providing more clarity on this issue by presenting practical steps for manufacturers to follow when considering private 5G.
Why private 5G in manufacturing?
We define private 5G as a dedicated, on-premise 5G cellular network that uses dedicated spectrum (owned or leased) and operating functions. Having this dedicated for a customer/site means that the network can be customised to meet the customers’ and various use case-specific needs, e.g. mission critical reliability, uplink downlink, ultra-low-latency, security etc.
While private 5G may not necessarily be the best choice for all applications in comparison to other technologies, it’s highly suitable in combinations of the following scenarios:
- To enable multiple data rich or high bandwidth use cases: Private 5G networks become more cost and performance efficient when addressing sets of use cases together rather than tactically covering individual use cases. This unlocks potential benefits from consolidation of fragmented siloes and number of interfaces that the customer has to manage
- When private 5G drives significantly better performance: use cases that require high security, reliability, flexibility and ultra-low latency are especially well-suited for private networks
- For mission critical applications: a dedicated private cellular network is most suitable for mission critical applications that require the reliability and resilience that Wi-Fi may not be able to provide.
- To enable use cases that require mobility: this is especially
- For high security environments: Private 5G networks are highly secure, meaning manufacturers can control the flow of data to the outside world and protect their data, devices and users from attack
- For locations where Wi-Fi signals do not perform as well
- For tactical/point-based deployments to address short-term & time-critical issues
- For hybrid use cases that require both edge computing and private 5G
These scenarios span a variety of industries, however; manufacturing can be singled out as one of the top verticals that will benefit from private 5G. Manufacturing has been a leading industry driving digital transformation (known as Industry 4.0) within production. Innovative leaders, within the automotive manufacturing sector for example, are exploring new innovative use cases that enable them to address key production outcomes and KPIs such as quality (defect and rework rate), productivity (yield, planned and unplanned downtime) and flexibility. The next section lays out a practical framework for manufacturers to evaluate their connectivity and application needs, decide whether private 5G is right for them, and if it is, learn how to go about implementing it.
Note, that the focus of this article is the evaluation phase of the process (see Figure 1 below) as that’s where most uncertainty lies. The assumption is that each enterprise will have its own established way of selecting vendors and piloting solutions.
6 practical steps for implementing private 5G
Figure 1: Manufacturers should adopt a multi-stage process to evaluate connectivity needs and relevant solutions
1. Gather strategic requirements
First, the manufacturer must undergo a strategic evaluation of its desired business outcomes and goals. This includes decisions around use cases that must be implemented, operational KPIs that must be met, and technical KPIs that need to be achieved. It’s important to have a strong representation from all key internal stakeholders (e.g. IT, Network, Strategy etc.) to ensure a wholistic picture is obtained.
2. Understand application performance targets
Once key requirements and use cases are identified, it’s time to understand the associated applications and their feature sets/connectivity needs. For existing applications, the manufacturer can measure current performance against a target benchmark. For new use cases, the manufacturer must identify key performance targets and KPIs and investigate whether current connectivity solutions are enough to enable them.
3. Evaluate connectivity options
The next step is to evaluate connectivity solutions available to the enterprise. The main three options are Wi-Fi, private 5G/LTE, and wired connectivity. Each technology has its advantages and disadvantages and must be used in the most appropriate way.
4. Identify spectrum options
If the manufacturer decides to go with private 5G, it must decide on how it will secure the 5G spectrum. It is possible to choose either licensed or unlicensed spectrum. There are four routes to access spectrum that can be categorised into the following types: managed (from local service provider or aggregators) and DIY (spectrum application or unlicensed spectrum).
5. Assess ecosystem and 5G enabled endpoint availability
As the 5G market evolves, so does the ecosystem enabling it. Today, not all devices are 5G-ready which is something that manufacturers must be mindful of when procuring solutions to successfully future-proof their investments and implement private 5G use cases.
6. Evaluate vendors and deployment models
The final step in this process is to evaluate vendors and deployment models. Manufacturers can either go with a single or multi-vendor approach depending on their partnership preferences. Additionally, they can choose to either own and operate the network (i.e. buy, install and manage the equipment), go for a managed service (where a 3rd party takes care of full service delivery), or adopt a hybrid strategy that combines the previous two. This decision must be made taking into account the enterprise’s budget, in-house resource capabilities, and technology estate.
Author: Ani Keshishyan is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in edge computing, 5G, and innovation.