A primer on the 5G private networks

This is a little technical (the article itself is behind the paywall) but I’d try to highlight the important components.

5G networks: Telcos want 5G captive networks to be ‘private’. The government differs. Is there a common ground? – The Economic Times

A private network, aka captive non-public network (CNPN), is a geo-fenced, standalone local area network particularly used by enterprises, such as smart factories, refineries, governments, defence establishments, robotics, and industrial IoT. Sectors ranging from healthcare to education, and auto to agriculture can use it for their connectivity needs. Typically, such private networks cater to specific use cases that require robust, ultra-low latency network requirements, with the enterprises having full control over the network and its security. Given that latency and capacity requirements for various use cases vary with enterprises, a one-size-fits-all solution cannot work.

Therefore, the moot question: Can Telcos provide 5G use cases for each vertical they intend to operate in? Can they extend the same expertise of managing commercial networks to healthcare premises with its use case scenarios? I remember dealing with a prominent telco for a “Zoom Alternative” and they couldn’t come up with a better option but a repurposed “enterprise application”. The person dealing with the onboarding process was unaware of the specific requirements, for example lack of a whiteboard or zero connectivity port options to project images. Besides, we have a variable network “points of presence” and service levels fluctuate. The organisation was unwilling to provide a private Wifi network to augment connectivity issues. Automation is understandable in warehouses; robotics in healthcare is still bordering “sci-fi”, but we are getting close to concept demonstrations.

There’s another reason for the jitteriness among the telcos. The capex returns will materialise from enterprise sales.

This is the key reason why telcos are worried about direct allocation of spectrum to enterprises for deploying their own captive non-public networks. Telcos argue that if enterprises are allocated spectrum directly, then there will be no business case left for them, as they don’t see any significant retail opportunity with 5G. According to the Cellular Operators Association of India, the body representing leading telcos, globally wherever 5G has been deployed, there is almost negligible incremental revenue from the retail segment.

Here’s another kicker:

The key characteristic of 5G network architecture is the network slicing capability. With network slicing, a service provider can provision different service-level agreements (SLAs) for different parts of the networks and allocate resources accordingly. SLAs can be linked either to a part of the network slice or for the full network.

The overriding issue here is that there will be multiple models involved (and shared costs) in the long-term. Administrative (and legal) frameworks to govern these contracts with exit clauses also need to be baked in; including the cost overruns and technology redundancies. While no one can foresee the future, these are critical components of investments. If AI and healthcare need to move forward, the building blocks need to be clear from the outset.

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