By then, you’ve probably read so many stories about companies adopting private 5G networks that you feel like a college student finding out he’s not one of the cool kids. Can you ever stand tall at a tech conference and admit you’re not using private 5G yet?
Take heart! Maybe you’re not meant to be. The best wireless networking technology for an enterprise depends on four elements: devices, broadcast, privacy, and mission.
5G is a cellular network technology used almost exclusively by telcos, but you can buy hardware to build your own 5G network, and even get hosted 5G from cloud providers like Amazon. You can use open spectrum so you don’t have to bid at an auction for a license. There’s a lot of excitement for private 5G, but in that excitement it’s easy to forget that you could have embraced private 4G/LTE a long time ago, and Wi-Fi is still the wireless technology. the most popular of all. You need to look at the four factors we just mentioned to decide whether you want to learn more about private 5G or embrace it.
Let’s start with devices, and here we find the first, easiest question to ask: Do I plan to use smartphones, mobile tablets, or mobile IoT devices with my wireless network and maintain an active session? while moving? If the answer to this question is “No”, then you certainly won’t get much out of private 5G. All private wireless technologies will create networks from small cells, and the great thing about 5G or 4G/LTE is that they can keep a call connected while you move between those cells, just like they do. do on the public network. If the devices you plan to use don’t move around much, this capacity doesn’t matter.
So if you plan on moving devices, you need private 5G, right? Not so fast. First, 4G/LTE technology is also available in private form, and anyone considering private 5G should take a close look at “old” wireless technology. 5G will support faster downloads, but that depends on whether you’re actually downloading something large. For workers who use laptops, download files and move about their work, 5G could be the difference. Otherwise, if you are sure download speed is not an issue, go for whatever is cheaper.
Note, however, that I said 5G could make a difference. This brings us to the second of our considerations, diffusion. It is important to expect moving devices, but so is the extent of their movement. Consider the extremes; do you have a building you are trying to connect wirelessly or do you want connectivity across a country or continent.
If all you want to do is support mobile sessions in a building, then private 5G or even 4G/LTE is overkill. There are a number of Wi-Fi calling apps that will work for voice or video calls, and Wi-Fi roaming is an established policy, standardized in 802.11k, 802.11r, and 802.11v WiFi, although you had to test your equipment to make sure it works for you. Wi-Fi 6 supports OpenRoaming, which lets you roam between Wi-Fi 6 networks and 5G networks.
It matters at the other end of our spread extremes. No one is likely to build a national or multinational private Wi-Fi network, except perhaps a government agency. The larger the desired wireless coverage area, the more likely you will have to rely on some form of public network for some or most of it. That doesn’t mean you have to ditch Wi-Fi in your facilities; just get Wi-Fi 6 and OpenRoaming.
You might think public 5G and WiFi 6 OpenRoaming solve all your private wireless problems, but it doesn’t. One area where you may still find private 5G useful is between these extremes. Imagine you have a very large college campus or perhaps a large transportation yard or even a large, highly automated farm. Wi-Fi 6 has a very short range compared to private 5G, and so for large areas it can be difficult, if not impossible, to provide uniform Wi-Fi coverage. You should be careful with private 5G if your facility is in a population center, as shared spectrum can create collisions and reliability issues, and 5G’s greater range increases this risk, but those are the industries verticals like these that present the most realistic opportunity for the private sector. 5G.
Protect sensitive communications
Why not just stick with public 5G, then? This brings us to our next consideration, which is privacy. Some companies need to support completely protected communications, which do not want to be on an open network at all. Private 5G might seem like a good option for this, but don’t forget about the range issue. If you need to protect voice calls, it may make more sense to use an encrypted call app on the public wireless network. Data connections can usually be encrypted at the app level, which should provide enough protection for downloads, VPN access, etc.
Privacy isn’t just about security, of course. It also ensures that you are not competing with others for resources. Public 5G could still result in blocked calls and capacity limits. However, this is more likely to happen in population centers, which are the very places where private 5G is likely to face spectrum competition. One option is Network Slicing, a 5G service that allows a company to create a kind of VPN from 5G resources. Slicing isn’t widely available at this point, but it’s growing and, when available, can cover your areas of interest.
Is 5G the best way for you to take on new tasks?
Speaking of interest, it’s time to move on to the last of our four considerations: mission. It’s never a good idea to lose sight of what you’re really trying to accomplish, but in networking, it’s a really bad idea. The best place to start is to ask a simple question: “Am I trying to do something different than what I’m doing now?” If the answer is “No”, then whatever your current wireless technology is, it probably works and you should have a very strong reason for making any kind of change.
Even if you’re going to do something different in the future, you still have to ask yourself why you think your current technology won’t support this new mission. Any decision to radically change technology – and make no mistake, private 5G is a radical change – must start with justifying why any change is necessary. Make sure you can do this before giving in to sellers eager to sell you private 5G, or you may regret your decision.
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