What is a private 5G network?
The Department of Telecom (DoT) is ready to auction 72GHz of 5G spectrum next month which will pave the way for the commercial rollout of 5G services in India later this year. In addition to telecom operators, the government has also decided to allocate spectrum to private networks that will be run and managed by private enterprises.
What is a private 5G network and why enterprises want it?
A private 5G network is a dedicated network where the spectrum and the infrastructure required to run it will be controlled by an enterprise instead of a telecom operator. It allows companies to prioritise specific kinds of traffic. For instance, factory robots could be prioritised in a private network so that they always have the required bandwidth and speed at all times. Such networks are less prone to congestion, and can be offered as a service by telcos too.
Currently, enterprises have private networks using WiFi, but these can still be hacked easily as long as a hacker has access to the network name and password. Private networks are more secure and allow enterprises to isolate their infra from all others.
Why are we hearing about private networks now?
Although private networks are possible on 4G connections too, till now the Indian government didn’t allow enterprises to bid for spectrum. This is why in 2018 Nokia had to partner with BSNL to build a private 4G network in its Chennai plant.
Experts believe that private networks were limited on 4G because most companies didn’t have use cases for them. Post pandemic though, staying connected is a top priority for businesses, especially in manufacturing and retail. In addition, India’s push for more manufacturing plants, etc. have increased the need for industrial automation, which works better on private 5G networks. As do technologies like virtual reality (VR) and augmented reality (AR).
But why on 5G networks?
5G networks provide higher bandwidth and lower latency. Which means that they can accommodate more data and that data can travel faster from point-to-point. This is especially suitable for use-cases like autonomous vehicles and robots, drone-based services and more. For instance, a carmaker can test autonomous vehicles more efficiently without fear of network congestion with private 5G networks. Similarly, healthcare firms can deploy new use-cases in robotic surgeries with more confidence.
Why are telcos opposed to private 5G networks?
5G has more industrial use-cases than consumer ones. While 3G and 4G brought noticeable improvements to consumer services, 5G for the most part, is meant for enterprise use-cases mentioned above. As a result, telcos are worried that private 5G networks will put them in competition with enterprises, who aren’t required to pay the same fees for licensing spectrum that they are. They also fear losing potential clients and revenue.
Are there private 5G networks globally?
Yes, private networks aren’t particularly new. Automaker Ford partnered with Vodafone for a private network in the UK last year, while American telco Verizon partnered with specialty glass-maker Corning in 2020, to build a private network at its North Carolina facility. In March 2022, the International Data Corporation (IDC) predicted that private 5G and LTE networks could become an $8.3 billion industry by 2026.