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5G Perspective

Exploring private 5G networks to accelerate digital transformation

With service providers expanding the 5G network at a blistering pace, the 5G ecosystem is starting to take shape in India.

Since the launch of 5G services in October 2022, India has already garnered around 50 million 5G subscribers, and it will likely have more than 150 million 5G subscribers by the end of 2024. As of May 14, the two top mobile network operators, Reliance Jio and Bharti Airtel, have installed 191,104 base stations, and are targeting to complete the pan-India rollout by December 2023 and March 2024, respectively.

As the Indian 5G ecosystem continues to grow, enterprises are keen to leverage the technology to improve their operational efficiency, gain new capabilities, enhance customer experience, and increase profitability. Enterprises from several industry verticals like healthcare, utility, manufacturing, and healthcare are exploring using technologies like the Internet of Things (IoT), automation, and Artificial Intelligence to transform themselves digitally, and to address the unique challenges faced by their particular industries.

As the dependency on digital tools and applications increases in a post-Covid world, enterprises are looking for robust, reliable, agile, flexible, and secure communication systems. This is crucial to improving operational efficiency, ensuring business continuity, enhancing safety, and providing users with a best-in-class experience. Unfortunately, public 5G or Wi-Fi may not be able to deliver a network performance as per these parameters.

It is for this reason that several organizations are testing and evaluating private 5G networks, which promise dedicated and secure wireless networks built for current and future needs of the company. For instance, Mahindra & Mahindra has collaborated with Bharti Airtel to deploy a private 5G network at its auto manufacturing unit in Pune, Maharashtra. Further, L&T has signed a contract with Vodafone Idea to deploy a private 5G network.

Private 5G networks provide secure, reliable, and high-performance connectivity within a specified location, such as a manufacturing building, hospital, or campus. For instance, private 5G networks providing high-bandwidth, low-latency network connectivity are crucial for manufacturing companies as they start to use the latest technologies to automate production. By supporting massive connectivity between a greater number of devices, private 5G networks are helping manufacturers leverage use cases like predictive maintenance to bring down operational costs and enhance safety, and all this while making their operations more sustainable in a more secure wireless environment than Wi-Fi.

The complex road to private 5G network deployment
Even so, deploying a private 5G network is not without challenges. For instance, the spectrum can be expensive for the enterprise to procure. In addition, most enterprises do not have the expertise or skill sets to design, deploy, and manage a wireless communications network. Deploying 5G networks can be complex and demands collaborating and partnering with several vendors, making it harder to create an appropriate business model. Several business models are emerging and organizations can work with service providers or system integrators or both to ensure seamless and timely completion of private 5G networks.

While regulators recognize the potential of private 5G networks in advancing different industries, the regulatory aspect of acquiring the spectrum still needs to be clearly defined. In India, the Department of Telecommunications (DoT) has initiated the process to identify 5G wireless spectrum bands that would be allocated to enterprises to deploy private 5G networks.

Another challenge enterprises face is that in contrast to the Wi-Fi networks, which are comparatively easier to deploy, 5G networks are inherently complex and demand expertise in several areas, including radio frequency engineering, network design, and network planning. Any carelessness can lead to a substandard network, defeating the very purpose of deploying a private 5G network.

What helps enterprises is that the 5G ecosystem is moving toward disaggregated and virtualized networks that simplify the deployment of private 5G networks. Virtualized or open radio access networks (O-RAN) and mobile core functions can be easily deployed using commercial off-the-shelf (COTS) hardware, which is more economical and simplifies deployment and management.

Private 5G networks are just one of the many use cases that are talked about today when we discuss the potential of 5G. The beauty of 5G is that there is no limit to the use cases with technologies like network slicing, enabling service providers to create new and exciting experiences. As service providers in India move toward the launch of commercial 5G services, translating customer needs into network innovations and, in turn, into revenue-generating services, would determine the winners of the 5G era.

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