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SCF preps blueprints for private 5G – as platform for Industry 4.0, smart cities

Small Cell Forum (SCF) is to develop a new set of private 5G ‘blueprints’ for enterprise and industry, to build on parallel work already completed by the likes of the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), the 5G Automotive Association (5GAA), and the MulteFire Alliance. The blueprints will incorporate reference designs for Wi-Fi 6, as well, plus for cloud and edge computing. They will present as-a-service models for private 5G infrastructure (IaaS), platforms (PaaS), network functions (NFaaS), network management (MaaS), systems integration, and test frameworks.

Blueprints will be published in batches, said SCF, with the first, covering traditional private 5G setups in vertical spectrum, due to appear in the second half of 2022. The second instalment, in the first quarter of 2023, will detail “MNO-supported” deployments; it is unclear whether “MNO-supported” refers simply to conventional private setups in which carriers have been engaged for networking expertise and vendor selection, or whether (more likely) it refers to setups that utilise some form of public infrastructure and spectrum, whether or not in dedicated ‘slices’.

This foundational work – providing technical and deployment guides on standalone private networks, and likely on hybrid public-private ‘campus-netz’ arrangements – will inform further blueprints on private 5G deployments for cellular vehicle-to-everything (C-V2X) and Industry 4.0 use cases. The C-V2X work will be geared to the automotive industry and the smart cities sector, and seek to show how publicly-operated private 5G deployments might be deployed and integrated with smart city services.

The idea is to reduce the time and cost of deployment of scalable and sustainable multi-technology private cellular networks. SCF said: “These represent significant areas of near-term growth potential [for] small cells, but roll-outs may be delayed or diminished without clear blueprints to drive scale and confidence…Blueprints will address an important gap in the mobile market… [and] be specific to certain roll-out scenarios that are not currently addressed by the frameworks of other organizations.”

SCF said blueprints by other organisations do not focus on common designs and interoperability for small cells – described as the “key foundation” for private LTE and 5G. “This does not mean SCF will not adopt parts from existing initiatives – it will actively partner with [these other] organizations where projects are complementary. However, most existing blueprints with a private network or V2X focus are concerned with other aspects of technology, such as macro RAN or edge compute, while others are mainly addressing the MNO-deployed macro network.”

SCF said the blueprints will bring advantages for enterprises in terms of reduced cost, integration, and risk, and advantages for 5G vendors in terms of lower barriers, higher confidence, and faster sales. SCF is also planning to set up a framework for badging and certification. It said: “Providers of components, modules, software, and cloud platforms can design to these specs and be certified as compliant and interoperable… Blueprints [will] enable deployers to be confident that compliant solutions will be interoperable and deployable for their own business.

An SCF poll this year of operators and “other deployers” says the fastest growing area of small cell deployment is in private enterprise networks. But the survey also found over a third (36 percent) of deployers will deploy more quickly if “more plug-and-play deployment[s] were enabled”. There are four ways to deploy and manage a private 5G network, reckons SCF: with a mobile operator, or with any of three third-party setups, with the network either managed on site by the enterprise or the third party, or in the cloud by the third party.

It might be argued there are only three in fact (enterprise-managed on-premise, vendor-managed on-premise, or vendor-managed in the cloud; as above), and the choice in each instance is only about who to engage for the build and run phases – and whether operators should be involved at all.

But SCF said, more as general commentary: “Those third parties are most commonly private network operators or neutral hosts that build enterprise networks that can be shared by many service providers. Initially, the majority of private networks have been deployed by an MNO, but by 2025, non-MNOs will dominate the landscape, and the most common model will be the cloud-managed one. This is why SCF’s proposed blueprints will focus heavily on networks and services that are delivered from the cloud.”

More importantly, SCF said the migration of mobile RANs to the cloud will go faster in the private micro-network space, than with large-scale public macro networks. This means “blueprints that focus only on physical, integrated, and on-premise equipment will become inadequate,” it said.

“SCF’s blueprints will cover traditional platforms but will be particularly focused on easing the journey to private and automotive networks leveraging the cloud. That may mean that the whole RAN, including most of the network functions, is deployed in a remote or on-premise cloud, or that a physical network is managed from the service provider’s cloud.”

The initiative is being led by Ravi Sinha, from India-based Reliance Jio, a board company with SCF. It is being managed by SCF’s newly-formed ‘emerging technology group’.

Sinha said: “For vendors, deployers and operators, and their customers, the technology roadmap is becoming increasingly complex. We aim to develop practical, use-case focused blueprints that not only cut through that complexity, but also provide robust, scalable and sustainable solutions for key verticals. This is an ambitious program and SCF will work with partners and recruit from across the ecosystem to support the initiative.”

Prabhakar Chitrapu, chair of SCF, said: “Existing solutions for private networks have been tailored to single use-cases. The industry needs flexible, yet specific, end-to-end blueprints for scalable private networks that can be systematically replicated across multiple user scenarios. Our blueprints will leverage existing work from SCF and partner organizations, recruit new members and partner with external organizations to address the needs of vendors, deployers, especially in enterprise and industry.” EnterpriseIoTInsights

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