What is private 5G?
Private 5G is a wireless network technology that provides cellular connectivity for private network use cases such as private businesses, third-party providers, and municipalities. Private 5G is an alternative to Wi-Fi, along with other wireless options like public Long-Term Evolution (LTE) and public 5G.
Expensive, licensed frequencies are required to operate cellular technologies. Large national carriers in the US – like AT&T, T-Mobile and Verizon – have the means to buy spectrum, build nationwide networks and lease network access for individual customer use.
In the past, private companies were typically unable to build their own wireless networks for personal use because the cost of licensing and purchasing carrier-grade equipment was too high. That changed when the Federal Communications Commission introduced the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in 2015. CBRS is a 150 megahertz frequency band that operates in the 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz range.
CBRS uses a three-tier priority concept with the following licenses:
- Authorized Access Government Reserved Facilities and Fixed Satellite Facilities;
- Priority access for purchased and reserved channel access; and
- General Authorized Access Tier that is unlicensed and free to use where available.
Enterprise Private 5G mainly uses the General Authorized Access level. Enterprises can acquire spectrum easily and free of charge, removing a major cost hurdle that has traditionally plagued consumer wireless applications.
With the advent of CBRS, incumbent 5G equipment vendors and several startups focused on enterprise 5G consumer use cases. Most vendor architectures use scaled-down technology and hardware to meet 5G private enterprise scenarios. Vendors are designing their private 5G architectures to be easier to install and operate compared to carrier counterparts. This design allows for lower deployment and ongoing operating costs, making private cellular networks a viable option for private ownership.
How does private 5G work?
A private 5G network works just like public 5G. Endpoints must be cellular-enabled—and CBRS-compliant—and connect to the private wireless network through physical Subscriber Identity Modules or embedded SIMs. This gives private 5G operators enormous control over which devices can connect to the network.
In most use cases, a private 5G network connects to a corporate local area network (LAN) – similar to how Wi-Fi works. Once connected, 5G private endpoints can communicate with other devices on the 5G private radio access network (RAN) itself, as well as with other IP-connected devices on the corporate LAN or wide area network.
What are the advantages of private 5G?
Private 5G supports the following features:
- secure access through SIM-based controls and encrypted network slices;
- radio access quality of service (QoS) controls on a per application basis;
- seamless handovers between access points (APs) for improved mobility;
- Speed, throughput and latency performance comparable to the latest Wi-Fi standards;
- Low-power compatibility with battery-powered endpoints;
- mass connectivity per AP; and
- Significant improvements in range and coverage compared to Wi-Fi.
Organizations should consider control, reliability, and mobility when evaluating these factors.
What is the difference between private 5G and public 5G?
Network operators offer public LTE and 5G services for both business and personal use. Businesses are contracting with public carriers to connect 5G-enabled devices such as smartphones, tablets, Internet of Things (IoT) sensors, and wireless routers. However, this is an expensive proposition since the price of connecting these devices comes with monthly or annual fees for access to the public network. As the number of cellular devices required for a business project increases, it becomes prohibitively expensive to access public networks.
A private 5G network is cheaper in large use cases. Businesses build and maintain their private 5G networks, so the cost of adding additional cellular endpoints is a fraction of the cost compared to public operator services. Additionally, owning a private 5G network provides better control over QoS and is easier to operate from a security and privacy perspective as the organization fully owns and operates the RAN internally.
Private 5G vs. WiFi: What are the differences?
Private 5G works similarly to Wi-Fi from an end-user perspective. However, there are significant differences between the two technologies in areas that are useful for deployment in specific use cases.
Some key differences between private 5G and Wi-Fi are as follows:
- Private 5G can carry signals at a higher power rating, around five to ten times higher, requiring fewer APs to cover the same physical area.
- Roaming between private 5G APs uses a soft handoff mechanism with no data loss compared to Wi-Fi, which first drops one connection before attempting to connect to another.
- A single private 5G AP can handle more active connections than Wi-Fi.
- Private 5G network slicing capabilities enable increased speed and throughput, guaranteeing application-based QoS granularity and control.
- Unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum is more vulnerable to external interference compared to private 5G operating in CBRS.
- Wi-Fi 6E latency and throughput standards remain slightly superior, but private 5G is comparable in most situations.
Private 5G is not a replacement for Wi-Fi. Most businesses deploy personal 5G in situations where Wi-Fi cannot function reliably. While Wi-Fi is workable in many scenarios, it suffers from several shortcomings that create usability headaches for network professionals who work with and manage wireless endpoints.
Private 5G Use Cases
Some of the key use cases for the private 5G industry are as follows:
- Industrial plants, manufacturing plants and warehouses with a lot of interference that require reliability and full indoor and outdoor coverage;
- Healthcare clinics and hospitals that track sensitive data and need seamless mobility to connect hundreds to thousands of wireless endpoints;
- modern smart buildings integrating a large number of IoT devices and facing difficulties such as signal propagation;
- School and college campuses that require large indoor and outdoor deployments for employees or students;
- Connectivity in cities and metropolitan areas for Smart City IoT, data access by emergency responders and consumption by private individuals; and
- Entertainment venues and stadiums where large numbers of users gather in narrow and crowded areas.