Until recently, mobile private networks were the preserve of governments, the military and emergency organizations: no-one else ever needed one. Now, with the advent of 5G and the possibilities it creates, the picture changes completely. So, what does this evolution of mobile private networks mean for telcos and their customers?

Picturing the 5G future

Imagine we are taking a tour of a modern manufacturing plant in 2025. Self-driving forklifts buzz around a vast compound 24/7, occasionally stopping at docking stations to be recharged. They are centrally controlled, and their routes are optimized in real time by what’s called swarm intelligence, a discipline of AI that seeks to make all units (in this case, the forklifts) behave like a coordinated organism.

“Until a few years ago this would not have been possible” explains a manager. “Many security functions of these connected autonomous vehicles (CAVs) require online processing. The Wi-Fi technology of the past was totally inadequate for the online connection. Now, with our own private 5G network, we have revolutionized our productivity.”

This is an example of 5G network slicing, which enables virtual networks that are tailored to the application requirements of specific markets (communication, entertainment, manufacturing, automotive, healthcare and so on). In this case, the network slicing is called ultra-reliable low-latency communication and is the feature of 5G that makes connected autonomous vehicles a reality. That, as well as other advances such as telesurgery performed by remotely controlled robots.

Let’s travel to somewhere else in 2025. The weekend has arrived, and a family wants to attend a soccer game. The kids bring their tablets and virtual reality (VR) goggles to the stadium. For an affordable fee, they can connect to the stadium’s private 5G network, zoom-in on the pitch from different angles and replay key moments of the game in slow motion.

In this case, private 5G network slicing enables a massive number of video channels, or interactive video through VR goggles, in a geographically confined location, as if one were standing right by the goal. It’s also good that fire alarm and air quality monitoring in the stadium have also been modernized! All the sensors are wireless, utilizing and enabled by 5G.

What about Wi-Fi?

So, with all these exciting possibilities and benefits, will private 5G networks replace all Wi-Fi connectivity? The answer is: not yet.

Many consumers today have a home wireless computer network (with an internet router and base station, with possibly a repeater or two). Private 5G is significantly more complex than WLAN, requiring a number of network functions running on servers, as well as privately issued SIM cards for the end devices. That puts private 5G into the business enterprise segment, not into the consumer segment – at least for some time.

Factors to consider for building a mobile private 5G network

What steps does an enterprise need to take today to build a private 5G network? First of all, it is advisable to investigate how you will use the private 5G and the expected returns on investment. Private 5G rarely directly contributes to productivity; it does so indirectly as an enabler of innovation.

Once there is a business case to build a private 5G network, a partner ecosystem will be required to blend the necessary capabilities and resources for these newly advancing technologies. Telcos will seek to provide synergies between their public network and the customer’s planned mobile private network, rendering customer entry easy. While this could be cost-efficient, it may come with the price of vendor lock-in. Regulatory frameworks also come into play; in some European countries, for example, the involvement of telcos may be the only way to be allowed 5G cell broadcasting.

Hyperscaler public cloud providers are also key. While a telco would think twice before outsourcing their 5G core network functions to a cloud provider, for private 5G users the public-cloud benefits of agility, cost-efficiency and flexibility are attractive. AWS, for example, is said to have implemented over 60 private 5G networks in the past year, many of them in the educational sector. That makes private 5G a domain for cloud innovation.

Seamless integration

In all cases of enterprise private 5G, the role of system integrators is likely to be pivotal. By understanding their customers’ requirements and working in collaboration with telcos, hyperscalers, application developers and others; they can blend, integrate and optimize mobile private 5G networks for enterprises that are leading in their field. And once the network is built, they can offer managed services to efficiently operate a private 5G system throughout its full lifecycle.

It would be a mistake to assume that an enterprise mobile private 5G network is just a copy of a telco public network. While it might be in some cases an extension of a public network, mobile private 5G networks require specific technologies and technological expertise. What’s clear, however, is that demand for them will increase exponentially as appetite from enterprise customers grows. These are the kinds of capabilities and experiences that are sure to shape our world in the decade to come.