UK Digital Secretary Oliver Dowden recently announced the launch of a £65m investment package for 5G trials across the country. According to the announcement, the funds are designed to bring about a range of cutting-edge technological innovations, including educational AR/VR, more precise location capability for sea search and rescue teams, and a range of systems for monitoring agriculture and the environment.
The transitions from 2G to 3G in the early 2000s and from 3G to 4G in the early 2010s were mostly framed in terms of the consumer-focused innovations that they enabled. After all, it’s not unreasonable to suggest that 3G’s transformation of the mobile web-browsing experience and 4G’s broadband-like connection speeds were clear markers of value to consumers and helped accelerate their adoption overall.
However, in 2020, connection speeds which already fulfil the majority of consumer needs and unlimited data plans on existing LTE networks (not to mention the prohibitive early costs of 5G-enabled mobile phones) mean consumers are unlikely to be the primary beneficiaries of 5G. On the other hand, the question of “what can I do with 5G that I couldn’t do before?” yields a much wider field of responses when posed to businesses.
Why 5G is different
In terms of outcomes, 5G is for businesses what 3G and 4G were for consumers, with enterprise use cases like M2M communication, edge computing or high-speed fixed wireless access being just some of the transformative innovations it will enable. At the same time, the 5G networks that will underpin these use cases will need to meet high standards in order to satisfy the requirements of enterprises. Most importantly, these 5G networks must meet enterprise standards of availability, manageability, interoperability and security.
5G not only represents a total transformation in what networks are capable of, but a sweeping change in how and by whom networks are adopted. With the right approach and the right systems in place to manage the network, early adopters can ensure their journey to 5G deployment is as seamless as possible. With this in mind, businesses should look to meet the following four imperatives for successful enterprise-class network deployment.
- Aspire to deliver high-availability services with reliable infrastructure
Compared to wired-line connectivity, cellular networks are arguably the most reliable networks available. 5G builds on the reliability legacy of LTE and will prove ideal for mission-critical processes and applications across wireless WANs.
When downtime is financially and operationally not an option, companies today can use Gigabit-Class LTE edge routers to provide branch continuity. Additionally, they can deploy LTE adapters that bridge LTE to Ethernet to provide a traditional wired-line router a second wireless connection. In this scenario, the as least one WAN connections is always guaranteed to be live, with the traditional router determining when failover is necessary.
- Manage the complexities of enterprise-class networks
The transformative impact of Gigabit LTE and 5G will make technologies such as cloud, IoT, and Software-Defined Networking (SDN) more accessible, adaptable and agile for businesses everywhere. On the other hand, meeting the needs of today’s highly-connected branches — while managing an organisation’s hundreds or even thousands of distributed sites — is no small task.
A wireless WAN based on LTE today and 5G tomorrow can help IT professionals ramp up branch, mobile and IoT connectivity and applications while reducing the amount of time spent managing networks. It provides a scalable WAN edge that can expand, contract, adapt, move, and evolve as business needs dictate.
Cloud-managed all-in-one branch solutions can streamline costs by providing control over the entire network from a single platform. As with wired SD-WAN, a cloud-based platform is key for wireless SD-WAN and optimising path selection across multiple LTE and/or 5G links with data plan awareness.
- Don’t let interoperability be an afterthought
Interoperability is essential to migrating gracefully to transformative technological capabilities, such as automation and SD-WAN. In the past, networks operated as many individual domains (i.e. branch, mobile and IoT), but the advanced orchestration and automation systems enabled by a wireless WAN will make these disparate networks operate as a single unified fabric.
Network infrastructure must have the versatility to support for all variants of 5G – low-band and mid-band (Sub-6Ghz) and high-band (millimetre wave) – in order to ensure carrier interoperability. Managing networks across major wireless operators and integrating existing customer SD-WAN and router infrastructures will be crucial.
- Write security into the DNA of the network
It is obvious that the security challenges our networks face is a hot topic. As businesses work to securely connect vehicles, branches, IoT devices and other endpoints over LTE and 5G, wireless WANs must have security capabilities written into their DNA.
One of the most effective ways of securing existing wired branch sites is through deploying parallel networks. Distributed enterprises create parallel branch networks by designating applications to a separate LTE connection (also known as air-gapped networks). Another critical tool for enterprises managing networks of vast and disparate devices is cloud security. A remote cloud management tool automates network security configurations and checklists and provides geo-fencing and location services — even for remote branch offices and vehicle fleets.
The new era of comprehensive 5G starts now
Businesses are understandably eager to get their hands on the capabilities of 5G. At the same time, they don’t want to rely on consumer-grade technology or “dumb-link” point solutions to meet the reliability, manageability, interoperability and security needs of an enterprise-class 5G network.
By adhering to these four principles when deploying LTE and 5G networks, businesses immediately improve operations and create revenue opportunities on a site-by-site basis, regardless of the scale of their footprint or the diversity of connected objects. While it has true transformative potential, a graceful migration to 5G will hinge on these imperatives being kept front of mind.
James Bristow, SVP EMEA, Cradlepoint