The fifth generation (5G) of mobile technology is quite a revolution. It enables localised and custom-tailored 5G experience in private facilities where high-speed, high-capacity, low-latency connectivity is crucial, regardless of whether or not the premises are within a public 5G coverage area. We at TM One are now paving the road for businesses to benefit from this critical driver of digital transformation.” – Nor Hisham Md Nordin, GM Enterprise Mobile, TM One
The concept of private mobile network is not new; it began with 4G/LTE. However, the previous generation of cellular technology couldn't support the speed, latency and reliability needed in today's fourth industrial revolution. As technology becomes mainstream, enterprises struggle with increasing workloads from applications and the proliferation of users and connected devices. Furthermore, increased video content, low-latency and reliability requirements, as well as thousands of intelligent Internet of Things (IoT) devices, have placed unforeseen demands on corporate connectivity.
What is Private 5G?
Like all 5G networks, private 5G is an augmentation of the 4G LTE network and it is designed specifically for an individual enterprise operating in a specific area e.g. a drilling platform in the ocean, a mining field and a factory/shop floor of a manufacturing facility. This controlled solution is especially beneficial for closed-premises requiring wireless access, high speed, low latency, high reliability and security capabilities beyond other network technologies.
At the same time, the total core network capacity can be scaled down significantly, relative to the public network. Plus, quite a few of its functionalities may be dropped altogether, for example voice services via Voice over LTE (VoLTE) and Voice over New Radio (VoNR), as private network use cases would be data-centric and not mixed with public voice services.
In terms of technical specifications, private 5G is similar to the public 5G network provided by commercial mobile network operators (MNOs). The critical difference between public and private 5G is allocating priority access and isolation.i Private 5G utilises the same technology but is located entirely on-site and serves the enterprise's own environment. Therefore, the core element of the network does not reside within the MNO's trunk infrastructure, allowing the localisation of the network’s breakout point.
Private 5G networks also enable the complete or partial isolation of end-user devices from consumer networks. In comparison, most public 5G networks offer all users equal access rights, leading to network congestion and increased vulnerability. However, enterprises have flexibility – compatible edge devices can switch freely between private and public networks when isolation is not necessary.
Why Private 5G?
Wireless access technologies such as Wi-Fi, Long Range Wide Area (LoRa) as well as LTE has been solving and improving operational technology (OT) and IoT/M2M in many industry verticals such as manufacturing, mining/drilling and port/transportation for a while now. The network infrastructure evolved from a rigid wired architecture to a flexible and dynamic wireless network. However, while these technologies work well in some environments, they may not in more demanding operations that require high security, high speed, low latency and high reliability network.
5G has been designed to address that via enhanced mobile broadband (eMBB), Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communications (URLLC) as well as a feature known as massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC), which allows millions of connected devices per km2.
Private 5G also increases operational efficiency for enterprises looking to digitise their data and create new digital products. Private 5G can serve as a cheaper alternative to fixed networks for enterprises looking to replace end-of-life legacy networks and scale better mobility solutions.
Rolling out private 5G
The majority of private mobile networks deployed today are dedicated and on-premise systems. As opposed to processing information in distributed cloud architectures, the localisation of the network allows Machine Learning (ML) algorithms to churn through massive volumes of data without ever leaving the privacy and security protocols of the enterprise. As a result, enterprises can gain more control over users, devices, and data flow visibility, significantly reducing data privacy concerns and the risks of cyberattacks.
Alternatively, with the inherent nature of 5G's service-based architecture (SBA), enterprises may combine slices of the public radio network with a dedicated on-premise core network. These slices can store different control and user plane functions that utilise certain portions of a public network. Enterprises can then route network traffic to a private network or Software Defined Virtual Private Network (SD-VPN) on shared infrastructure while running the control and user plane separation (CUPS) of the core network.
Private 5G in action
Private 5G is quickly finding its place in the heart of digital-first enterprises. According to Analysys Mason, the manufacturing and transport sectors are the early adopters of the technology.ii
Private 5G has also played a paramount role in enabling a local tech revolution; case for example is unmanned operations field. Robotics and drones could be used to inspect hard-to-reach areas with remote monitoring that is enabled by robust connectivity infrastructure, even in harsh conditions. The deployment of private, on-site networks significantly accelerate the processing of information collected from the drones' visual, thermal and LIDAR sensors by localising computational processes. Crewless operations across facilities is possible using automation and robotics that ultimately rely on an advanced connectivity infrastructure, i.e. private 5G.
With the heavy industry now benefiting from private 5G in Malaysia, we foresee that Oil & Gas, Manufacturing, Transportation and Ports industries would follow soon.