The 5G future is now; the 6G-one can wait – says Verizon, at Private Networks Forum – RCR Wireless News

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There was a good session last week at Private Networks Global Forum with Arvin Singh, head of global 5G solutions engineering at Verizon, and part of the US carrier’s global go-to-market team for private 5G. He was in conversation with Bruno Tomas, chief technology officer at the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA), ostensibly to talk about the concept of neutral host networks as the ‘killer app’ for private 5G; in the end, the conversation was more wide-ranging, touching here and there on the neutral host model, but jumping around the role of cellular within enterprises in a more expansive fashion. Here is a summary of the big points. 

Singh – talking private networks and neutral host networks at Private Networks Global Forum

1 | PRIVATE CELLULAR IS AGE-OLD AND BRAND-NEW

Make no mistake: private cellular is like a new technology, with all the optimism that brings – and more, just because it is more special. Yes, said Singh at Private Networks Global Forum, enterprise-geared cellular has been around for donkeys’ years. “We have been in the private networks game for a decade and a half,” he said, making reference to distributed antenna (DAS) and license assisted (LAA) and aggregated (LWA) systems for enterprise setups. But spectrum liberalization in a number of global markets has changed the dynamic, and allowed enterprises to rent their own airwaves, and service providers of various sorts to sell services in almost any market they want.

This is “what’s unique and different now”, said Singh. But, perhaps unsurprisingly, given the sensitivity for traditional operators about spectrum ownership, the reference to spectrum was short, or else skewed behind the parallel narrative about how cellular technology itself has changed – with both development of the 5G standard, but also, notably, with smaller and simpler core network and radio access (RAN) systems. “We are in a different place… as an industry; the technology has modernized rapidly,” remarked Singh.

“[With] the miniaturization of radios and core network equipment – we are able to bring private dedicated on-prem indoor / outdoor networks that are designed and purpose built to serve specific business use cases and problems. Industries… are positioned to benefit from this type of network experience that is tailor-made for their use cases. 

2 | NEUTRAL HOST BUILDS THE BUSINESS CASE

The impact of smaller and simpler LTE/5G systems is not just about their manageability, of course; it is about cost, as it always is – and as it must be for new technology to gain credibility in watchful industrial markets. When presented as a fully-managed service solution (as sold by Verizon’s enterprise team), private cellular might even appear like a light-touch investment, suggested Singh. “Think about the IT burden it lifts from IT staff, and the ease-of-deployment [because of] reduced wiring [compared to fixed Ethernet or higher-volume Wi-Fi installations],” he said.

More than this, however, the emerging neutral-host model, where new LTE/5G systems are operated with both carrier-agnostic channels for general work comms and private-dedicated channels for critical work comms, means the investment case is exploded and secured by multiple departments and enterprises. Singh said: “Neutral host networks [are] going to be a key driving force [for] private 5G adoption, and [will] enable the next wave of use cases… I see tremendous benefits from a capex / opex standpoint… [Because] [private 5G] is an IT funded network.”

He continued: “[Whereas] you get into neutral-host… [and it] is a network for anybody and everybody – for the facilities [and] real estate department, and for OT partners and other business units to collaborate on [funding for] this next-gen network.”

3 | 5G IS COMPLEMENTARY, BUT ALSO BETTER

The above-point about private cellular being special is not just because it is smaller, simpler, and cheaper than it once was, of course; it is because it is just plain better, too. That is, if better means higher-performing – for higher-performance applications; and if the comparison is with other wireless technologies. Either way, this is the conclusion from Singh. Pressed by Bruno Tomàs at the WBA, chairing the session, about how 5G will slot in with legacy enterprise connectivity technologies, he responded: “The [5G] value proposition is far more interesting.”

Actually, that is not entirely fair; Singh provided a right-on and round-about justification for both enterprise customers and technology vendors to use an arsenal of technologies to arm a fleet of applications, before a righteous proclamation about 5G as the big gun in the ranks. It went like this: “Look, there are a variety of network modalities… and… tremendous proof points… [for] industrial-grade deployments in logistics, oil and gas, energy, manufacturing – [whether for] replacing or augmenting Wi-Fi networks.”

“IoT can be advanced and scaled greatly on private networks. We’ve come into scenarios where manufacturing facilities are using ground robotics like AGV or AMRs, and there are Wi-Fi dead spots and handoff issues… [and] congestion… This notion of a secure connected 5G fabric that gives high speed, low-latency, predictable performance – and the ability to assign quality-of-service to different applications and profiles – makes [5G] super interesting, and the value proposition far more interesting than the previous modalities of connectivity, frankly.” 

4 | THE PRIVATE 5G FUTURE IS NOW – THE 6G-ONE CAN WAIT

The other thing – which has undermined the hype, but also makes the hype tangible – is that 5G is a developing technology. Singh reflected: “5G packs tremendous promise. A lot of it is yet to be realized. Over 315 operators globally have deployed commercial 5G networks, and a lot of the progress in the macro network, going from NSA to SA architecture, or enabling slicing [and] URLLC, can carry over to private network infrastructure.” He cited nearer-term opportunities with reduced capability (RedCap) 5G for lower-power industrial IoT, as well. 

These developing network capabilities also shore-up the business case for private 5G, he said. “We are not saying [5G] is a replacement network [for Wi-Fi]. Quite frankly, [they are] very complementary. But it really depends on the use case, and not just the immediate use case but the longer term ones – the future vision, and horizon-three applications that [an enterprise wants to enable]. That [kind of thinking] should really prescribe the flavor of the network investment one should make,” said Singh. The implication is that 5G is the safer long-term bet. 

Asked by Tomàs, as well, about even longer-term development, with 6G starting to loom larger in the telco consciousness, he provided some kind of perspective – that 5G is a real commercial proposition, close enough and young enough to support industrial transformation, and that 6G is a potent standards exercise, which will not feature properly in commercial discussion for another decade. “Tech progression takes herculean effort… and a lot of the lessons of 5G and 5G Advanced will shape the 6G future,” he said.  

“But these technologies [are] 10 years in the making, on paper – to ratify the standards, [schedule] capabilities, that sort of thing. And once [they are deployed] at scale, it [still] takes time – and the network lives for three or four decades… 6G is a post-2030 type of experience, and it won’t be designed for anything and everything. Private [5G] is a promising opportunity [now] to take networks in places where operators did not typically build public infrastructure – so that makes it a more of an interesting proposition.”

5 | EXPERIENCE IS BUILDING – AND EXPERIENCE IS EVERYTHING

The other message from Singh at Private Networks Global Forum is that the telecoms industry – or the operator community within it, or maybe just Verizon Business – has learned a lot, and fast, about how to design, sell, build, and manage private cellular networks for enterprises. “We have learned a ton, quite frankly, in the four years of doing this – from proof-of-concept, to proof-of-value, [to] commercial deployment. We have tons of proof points that give confidence that this is real, that it works and solves problems, and that customers can realize their ROI fairly quickly.”

And, as a sales pitch of sorts, he warned finally that experience counts in the private-enterprise- networks market, and that enterprises should choose carefully. “Now, with open spectrum ecosystems, there are a lot of players [in this] business. [Enterprises] really want to do [their] tech due-diligence to make sure [they] are partnering with the right providers that can deploy a network that has the ability to scale; which has a future roadmap that can be enhanced with software upgrades, rather than requiring a major forklift.” 
Verizon is that type of partner, of course – the message went. 

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