What is Private 5G?​

Defining Private 5G

Private 5G is a dedicated wireless network that operates independently of public carrier networks. This means that the customer has control over the network and is able to customise it to accommodate specific application needs. A key characteristic of Private 5G is that the customer is allocated 5G spectrum that is either leased from a licensed operator or owned by the enterprise.

There are three main delivery models for Private 5G, summarised in the diagram below:

Figure 1: There are three models for the delivery of Private 5G

Private 5G delivery models

1. On-prem: One of the main delivery mechanisms is what we call on-prem. In this case, the entire Private 5G network (including the core) is deployed at the customer’s site within a specific physical location, such as a factory, hospital, or a warehouse.

2. Distributed: It is also possible to follow a more distributed model of deployment whereby only a part (e.g. the RAN or core user plane functions) of the Private 5G network is on-prem while the core control plane is located in a central location such as the telco’s edge sites.

3. Network slice: While in both of these cases the Private 5G network is created by physically separating the underlying infrastructure, operators are also able to offer this technology by logically separating the public network with software – in other words – through network slicing.

Regardless of the delivery model, an important characteristic of Private 5G is security. Because the network is isolated (either physically or logically) from the public network, no other parties can interfere, strain or undermine it, making Private 5G a highly secure connectivity option. With an on-prem and distributed delivery model, there is also the added benefit of having dedicated infrastructure that enables Private 5G to achieve superior performance when it comes to speed, latency, and reliability. This is true not only of Private 5G but also other private network options. To learn more about these, check out our latest article on “What is a private network”.

Public 5G vs Private 5G

Public 5G networks, as the name suggests, are designed to provid wireless connectivity to the general public. 5G, introduced by 3GPP’s release 15 in 2018, and deployed internationally by telecoms operators since 2019, is considered a significant upgrade to 4G and LTE. Its improved capabilities such as increased speed, coverage, reliability, and security promise to enable a host of new use cases in a wide range of industries.

This being said, public 5G networks don’t offer the benefits that come with the territory of deploying a dedicated private network. For example, public 5G networks are managed by mobile network operators (not the customers) and are shared between a large number of users while Private 5G is customised to serve a single (or a few) customer’s unique application and workload needs.

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Private 5G: On-prem vs Network slicing

Network slicing is not commercially available yet as it is constrained by the rollout of 5G standalone core. Public 5G will be built on virtualised and even cloudified infrastructure, which means that network functions will be able to run as software in datacentres. This will make the 5G network extremely dynamic and will allow operators to create multiple logical end-to-end networks over the same shared infrastructure. As the telcos’ radio access networks become smarter and RAN Intelligent Controllers (RICs) gains ground, these separate networks can be spun up, operated or retired as necessary and will be designed to serve specific needs – all of this will make network slicing possible.

While network slicing and on-prem are two flavours/delivery models of the same technology, i.e. Private 5G, there are important differences in how they work. For example:

  • Network slices run on a shared public network while on-prem Private 5G networks have their own dedicated infrastructure.
  • Network slices can usually handle fewer than a thousand devices while private networks can be connected to a significantly greater number of endpoints.
  • Private 5G needs significantly higher spectrum capacity than network slices do.
  • On-prem and, to a degree, Distributed Private 5G offers guaranteed ultra-low latency because it runs on dedicated infrastructure while Private 5G with network slicing cannot guarantee that level of performance due to the fact that it runs on shared infrastructure.

Naturally, the choice between On-prem Private 5G and network slicing depends on what the customer wants to get out of the deployment. There are situations where one will work better than the other, while in other cases it might be better to deploy both technologies in tandem. A few example deployment scenarios are presented in the below diagram:

Figure 2: Private 5G use cases by delivery model

Private 5G use cases

Private 5G deployment

Enterprises can work directly with telco operators to get network slicing services. If the customer decides to go for an on-prem or distributed delivery model, there are three potential ways to go. The enterprise can either choose to own and operate the network (i.e. buy, install and manage the equipment), go for a managed service (where a third party takes care of full service delivery), or adopt a hybrid strategy that is a mix of the other two. The right approach depends on the customer, its needs and existing expertise/ability to run a mobile network:

Figure 3: Private 5G deployment options

Private 5G deployments

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Conclusion

Text Box Private 5G is an emerging technology that will transform many organisations. While this connectivity option is widely discussed, it can be difficult to understand what Private 5G actually entails. In a nutshell, a Private 5G deployment will either run on dedicated infrastructure or on a logically separated portion of the public 5G network. This makes it uniquely secure and reliable. Moreover, Private 5G, by definition, is designed to serve the customer’s specific performance needs e.g., around speed, latency, reliability etc., thus enabling a set of innovative use cases and applications. We explore a few of these use cases in our “Five 5G Enterprise use cases” article and deep-dive into the role of Private 5G/4G in transport and logistics here.

Ani Keshishyan

Author

Ani Keshishyan

Senior Consultant

Ani is a senior consultant at STL Partners and has been working on a diverse range of projects, mainly in the areas of 5G, automation, and edge computing. She has worked on consulting engagements aimed at helping clients define strategic opportunities, carry out competitor evaluations, develop go-to-market strategies and more.

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