MEF Programme Director for IoT Nassia Skoulikariti shares a detailed look into private mobile networks – what are they, what are their benefits and how can enterprises leverage their use?
Private mobile networks are becoming increasingly popular as they offer several advantages over traditional and public network services.
The technology behind private mobile networks is evolving rapidly. Various types are available today, including GSM, CDMA, and LTE; each offers unique advantages and capabilities, making it the perfect choice for specific applications.
Let’s look at what is a private mobile network.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines private networks as those that do not operate under a carrier’s authority. They include privately owned cell sites and home-based and local area networks. Private networks are often referred to as “unlicensed”.
According to the analysts, the growth in private mobile networks comes mainly from 4G LET and 5G implementations.
5G is the next generation of cellular network technology that promises faster speeds, lower latency, and better coverage. In addition to offering high-speed internet access, it could provide autonomous vehicles with remote guidance and control capabilities. This makes 5G much safer and easier to implement than current technologies like Wi-Fi and Bluetooth.
Private LTE networks have become increasingly popular in large enterprise sites due to their dedicated spectrum and operating functions. These networks typically use a dedicated spectrum and dedicated operating functions or assets, making them more efficient and reliable than public LTE networks.
Private LTE and 5G networks use licensed or unlicensed wireless spectrum. These networks are typically operated by companies that want to offer customers a competitive advantage over others in their market segment.
How do private LTE and private 5G networks work?
Private LTE and 5G networks are similar to traditional mobile broadband networks. They consist of a set of radio towers that communicate with each other via microwave frequencies. These frequencies are licensed to Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) and are used to provide coverage across cities and regions.
The difference between public and private networks lies in who has a license to operate the tower equipment and how it connects to the core network.
In a public LTE or 5G network, the MNO owns and operates the infrastructure, including the radio towers and base station equipment.
In a private LTE or 5G network owned by a single organisation, the owner owns and operates the infrastructure, including the radio towers and base stations.
Both types of networks have a secure link between the edge device and the infrastructure. The edge device uses this link to send data to the infrastructure, and the infrastructure sends data back to the edge device.
While there are clear benefits to deploying PMNs, significant challenges are still associated with doing so, especially around internal expertise and the cost of doing so. Most enterprises also do not have the cell network knowledge or the number of mobile specialists necessary for successful implementation.“
The benefits of building a Private Mobile Network (PMN)
Private Mobile networks are becoming increasingly popular for private enterprises and government agencies who need the flexibility, control, and security necessary for wireless edge connectivity.
They’re instrumental in areas without sufficient capacity on existing public networks and where it makes economic sense to deploy a private solution.
Any organisation can set it up and run their own private LTE or fifth generation (5G) network, just as anyone can set up and run their Wi-Fi or mesh network. However, full private LTE and 5G networks require a higher initial capital investment than Wi-Fi and other networks. In addition, operators must consider many factors such as the amount of traffic expected, how much bandwidth is needed, the type of device being used, and the location of the coverage area.
There are several advantages to building a private LTE/5G network over traditional methods, including:
- Great level of control
- Device access & management
- Capacity & Scalability
- Coverage & Availability
- Independence & Flexibility
A PMN provides a scalable, reliable, and secure infrastructure for enterprise applications and IoT devices. As a result, Private mobile networks offer a viable alternative to public LTE/5G networks for mission-critical applications like industrial automation, smart buildings, and healthcare.
It’s not all rosy, some of the challenges of deploying PMNs?
There are many potential benefits to implementing PMNs within an enterprise as outlined above, and many large enterprises across different sectors are already using private Mobile Networks (PMNs).
While there are clear benefits to deploying PMNs, significant challenges are still associated with doing so, especially around internal expertise and the cost of doing so. Most enterprises also do not have the cell network knowledge or the number of mobile specialists necessary for successful implementation.
Some other challenges include:
- Security concerns: High levels of security are required due to the sensitive information that is transferred over the networks, which includes personal information, financial information, intellectual property, confidential customer data and much more.
- Privacy concerns: PMNs pose privacy risks because they collect and transmit data to cloud servers, potentially exposing sensitive information.
- Lack of standards: There is no standard definition of PMNs, making it difficult for vendors to develop products that meet enterprise requirements.
- Cost: PMNs add cost to deployments, requiring additional hardware, software licenses and ongoing maintenance.
- Complexity: PMNs introduce complexity into IT environments, making them harder to manage and operate.
Many enterprises have multiple connectivity solutions, each with a specific application or use case, leading to fragmentation, complexity, and an increase in the overall cost of ownership.
Many choose to deploy hybrid networking that combines private and public network connectivity solutions, allowing enterprises and organisations to take advantage of the best available features from both types.
Enterprises should focus on understanding where and when each connectivity solution is best suited, find potential network synergies, and take advantage of any opportunity for consolidation.
The demand for private mobile networks (PMNs) based on LTE and increasing numbers of 5G technologies are proliferating due to the ever-increasing amount of data traffic generated by businesses and governments, combined with the growth in digital transactions and IoT devices.
Organisations of all types are now combining wireless connectivity with big data and analytics capabilities to improve operational efficiencies, automate processes, enhance customer experiences and provide new services to their customers.
Many challenges need to be solved before PMN deployments become commonplace. These include the lack of interoperability between network infrastructure providers, the high cost of deploying and operating PMNs; the difficulty of managing large volumes of data traffic; the requirement for extensive physical site preparation; and the need for ongoing upgrades and maintenance.