Mobile operators around the world have launched industry-oriented private 5G networks, which can be flexibly customised for enterprises of different sizes across most sectors, supporting their digital transformation initiatives.
A survey by Omdia found 5G private network deployment is driven mainly by enterprises looking to streamline their operations and rising demand for security, data management and privacy protection.
The research company argued 5G private networks can be an important opportunity for operators and their partners to break into new segments by enabling enterprises to implement production automation.
With traditional telecoms service revenue declining in China, industrial services powered by 5G networks have become the main growth driver for operators. By end-September 2022, more than 10,000 virtual private 5G networks were deployed, with installations in some 200 mines, 1,700 smart factories and 250 grid projects.
Three years after the launch of 5G service for consumers in China, the private network market continues to have huge potential.
GSA estimated 889 organisations worldwide deployed private LTE and 5G networks in 70 countries and territories, with 140 networks turned on in the first half of 2022. Manufacturing is the industry deploying the most private networks, followed by education, power utilities and mining.
Juniper Research forecast annual spending on global private network hardware and services to reach $12 billion by 2023, up from an estimated $5.5 billion in 2021.
To take advantage of that growth, ZTE launched its Fit-it-All private 5G core to meet the diversified requirements of industry, enabling operators to provide private 5G network as a service and build a new 5G digital infrastructure with ultra-low costs, physical isolation, security and reliability.
The private-network-as-a-service business model delivers one-stop order-to-service, covering consulting, planning, integration and delivery, which Chen Xinyu, president of Cloud and Core Network Products at ZTE, said helps lower the supply and demand barriers of private 5G services.
The service supports 4G, NB-IoT and 5G converged access, and provides special campus functions such as private network voice, messaging, high-precision positioning, deterministic network features and standard industrial applications. The introduction of full automation simplifies operation and maintenance (O&M) with a self-service portal for enterprises.
Rising network requirements
Private networks are not unique to 5G, with dedicated enterprise networks existing in the LTE era. The emergence of the industrial internet, intelligent manufacturing and demand from a wide range of vertical industries, however, has significantly boosted the stress put on mobile networks.
The next-generation networks now feature a range of new capabilities: full cloudification, micro services, NFV, multi-access edge computing (MEC) and slicing. The 5G core control plane also is separated from the user plane, allowing user plane functions (UPFs) to be deployed in a lightweight and distributed manner, and even the 5G core can be deployed in the campus, Chen explained.
Together with MECs, he noted the core network offloads and isolates data at various layers, such as for an enterprise or campus, supporting the local application ecosystem.
Chen stressed private network construction needs to be closely combined with the service requirements of the client, taking into account the characteristics of each industry, and include equipment costs, network maintenance, security and reliability.
He outlined three ways a 5G private network can be built:
· Virtual private network. Operators develop a shared public network to provide services for an industry through network slices.
· Hybrid private network jointly constructed by operators and enterprises. Operators lease dedicated base stations and UPF/multi-access edge platform offloaded to enterprises. The core network control plane is deployed in the operator’s network, ensuring not only network service quality, but also the security requirements for application data.
· Independent private network. To meet the requirements of its own service development or industry rules and regulations, some large enterprises take the lead in building private industry networks. End-to-end 5G networks are independently built by enterprises or by operators.
In the early stage of 5G private network applications, it is recommended operators deploy a fully convergent common core for unified access of 4G, 5G NSA and 5G SA, and use a virtual private network to multiplex public network resources and provide private network services through network slices.
As 5G private networks becomes more mainstream, operators, vendors, cloud service providers and system integrators will make innovations in network deployment and service modes.
Based on the deployment experience of private networks, ZTE can provide dozens of templates that map specific service requirements of the industry to private network design solutions, giving operators the tools to provide the appropriate type of private network.
The process starts with the operator working with an enterprise to determine the exact requirements, covering applications, devices, suppliers as well as any licences. The operator then deploys an integrated 5G private network, with O&M support.
An innovative service model gives clients a network hosting option, with fees charged for supporting network devices. This mode allows enterprises to avoid the high cost and technical difficulties of deploying a standard 5G private network. Such a model is well suited for live broadcasts or sports events, with customers signing up for 5G services and the service provider paying fees based on duration, bandwidth and latency.
ABI Research predicts spending on global private 5G network will exceed that of public 5G networks by 2036.
The growth will be driven by new applications applied across all industries running on 5G networks.
Chen explained ZTE aims to play an increasingly important role in enabling digital transformation of industries in China and across the world, adding its Fit-it-All private 5G core will continue to evolve.
“Technological innovations will be combined with commercial implementations to promote the rapid transition from the test stage to the application at scale.”
He added ZTE will work with more industry partners over the next one to three years to combine product innovations with business model innovations to develop and launch more scenario-based private network products and services.