The number of global operators with 5G networks has grown from 200 at the start of 2019 to 493 by May 2022. Among those are 794 private LTE and 5G networks, while the total addressable market for private networks is forecast to grow from $3.7 billion in 2021 to more than $109 billion in 2030, a CAGR of 44 percent.
I spoke with David Ronen while he was VP and General Manager of Private Networks at Cellwize. He is now the Director of Product Management at Qualcomm. At Cellwize, Ronen focused on the programmability of private networks coupled with artificial intelligence. Here are a few key observations from our conversation.
Making the Network Simple
Ronen began the discussion by saying businesses need simple and self-service private networks. He shared the importance of making 5G complexities stay under the hood so that the enterprises and system integrators could actually build, replicate, and customize networks and do it without all of the know-how and skill sets that a carrier would have.
Enterprises need to go digital. Digital means good networks, and networks are going wireless. Some are considering Wi-Fi, but Wi-Fi has limitations concerning mobility, security, SLAs, spectrum efficiency, and others. Therefore, it seems that the technology of choice for enabling the wireless network that will enable the digital enterprise is 5G.
Is It 4G or 5G?
Our dialog continued around the use of private LTE versus 5G. Ronen pointed out that although 5G is getting all the press and notice, 4G is getting the work done. For example, ultra-low latency services become available in Release 17 of 5G. The chipset for that is not available yet. Private networks are answering use cases primarily with today’s LTE technology, according to GSA’s Private Mobile Networks June 2022 Summary. The report shows 59 percent of deployed private networks to be solely LTE and only 20 percent solely 5G.
The Roadblocks to Operationalizing Private Networks
Ronen sees four obstacles to the current deployment of private networks. The first is complexity. A cellular network is more complicated to build, operate, and design than a Wi-Fi network. It was created and designed for carriers, not for the enterprise ecosystem.
The second is the proper set of skills. Enterprises recognize that their IT teams are not the 5G experts. The service providers of the world have experts in network planning and design parameters, as well as radio and transport and core and optimization experts.
The third roadblock is integration into the current ecosystem of an enterprise. An existing IT ecosystem not only contains some 5G components, but also includes Wi-Fi, routers, data centers, servers, and more. In addition, a new private network must be integrated into these pieces.
Finally, the cost is a barrier; however, Ronen sees this impediment fading away as time passes.
How To Take a Hardware Network and Make It Behave Like an IT Solution
If you can take a network and make it look like an IT service like you would deploy a cloud service or an IT application, then you can scale it, integrate and tailor it, and build and develop applications on top of it. To do this, three things are needed. First is what Ronen refers to as an open management platform. This platform can manage multiple types of networks and incorporate logic. It should have an SDK to integrate the network into the IT ecosystem.
The second item needed is network programmability. That allows taking away some of the behaviors and capabilities that would typically be built into a box and put in software, allowing system integrators, application providers, the enterprise, or the MNO to produce that piece of logic and add it to the network. That programmability opens up a universe of innovation, customization, and tailoring capability.
The third is the ability to tailor your SLAs and the services to the business applications, keeping in mind that the application’s performance is generally a top priority — more so than the network service.
5G Is a Moving Target
Ronen shared that it is essential for everyone to understand that 5G is a moving target, not a stationary thing at which we can aim. Sites in Japan, China, and Brazil may not use the same spectrum or equipment, but they all belong to the same enterprise. Sites built in 2022, 2023, and 2024 may not use the same 5G because 5G would evolve. A site created for customer A or in the network built for customer B may not use the same architecture because they would have different requirements. These are all different colors, and the variety of colors is what makes the network beautiful.
To learn more about 5G and private networks, listen to the podcast hosted by Ashish Jain, CEO and Co-founder, PrivateLTEand5G.com and KAIROS Pulse. Our podcast guest is David Ronen, former VP and General Manager of Private Networks at Cellwize.