5G is anticipated to be one of, if not the most adopted technology by enterprises in the coming decade, providing the foundation for true connected experiences. By 2024, , the number of 4G devices in use is expected to decline from 305.5 million to 154.2 million, while the number of devices using 5G (either partially or exclusively) will rise to 222.3 million.
More than ever, people expect effortless access to their data – anywhere and anytime – in both their personal and professional lives. Considering this alongside the now-widespread acceptance of hybrid working, and the many organizations exploring the possibilities offered by cloud transformation, big data, and the internet of things (IoT), the demand for high-quality, always-on connectivity has never been higher.
5G private networks offer an answer to this demand, and will prove transformative for a number of industries, including manufacturing, utilities, retail, public transport and healthcare, providing staff with effortless access to the tools they need, whether they’re at home, on site, or on the move. This will, in turn, drive new innovations in customer service, technological innovation, and the way we collate, analyze, and act on our critical business data.
At first glance, 5G may seem like a simple update to 4G, offering increased bandwidth, greater reach, and minimal latency. But while this is certainly true, its potential benefits extend far beyond this. Ultimately, while 4G was a brilliant evolution for consumers, it is businesses that will reap the greatest benefits from 5G. While it has been suggested that we are still some way off from truly experiencing these benefits, the early successes 5G has already delivered paint a different picture.
Why future-minded organizations are embracing private 5G networks
Many internet and telecommunication providers have already embraced 5G, and are already pressing ahead with the design and deployment of the required infrastructure. However, widespread implementation of public 5G is still some way off as the technology reaches maturity, with the technology available to only around 30 percent of the UK in November 2020 – a situation that is likely to persist until at least 2022.
However, one area developing much more quickly is private 5G – cellular networks designed for an individual enterprise, based on their specific requirements, rather than for use by the general public. Ofcom recently released a small amount of spectrum for these private networks in the UK and it’s quickly being trialed by many businesses. Critically, 5G enables large-scale connection to a single cell from multiple locations.
These private networks are perfect for connecting geographically dispersed sites, providing consistent performance for business-critical applications. For example, most energy companies manage massive substations, power stations, solar and wind farms. Such sites are typically highly dispersed, but still require reliable, secure, and private connectivity – the kind provided by a private 5G network.
How 5G is driving innovation in big data and the IoT
Deploying 5G for these huge areas also means organizations don’t need expensive cabling, which requires a lot of manpower to install. As a result, a 5G private network is frequently more cost-effective, cheaper, quicker to install, easier to set up, and – crucially – more reliable and secure. This not only ensures devices and staff can access critical applications from wherever they are operating, but also provides the power and performance required for resource-intensive big data and IoT projects.
With staff connecting remotely across numerous sites, utilizing a wide range of software-defined solutions and IoT devices, organizations generate increasing volumes of data on a daily basis – a trend that shows no sign of slowing down. Private 5G networks allow this data to be securely gathered, stored, and analyzed, providing a clear picture of the entire ecosystem, and delivering insights that lead to sustainable, long-term growth.
This might include manufacturers, who can monitor the performance of IoT devices across their entire network of sites, healthcare organizations capturing and centralizing data at the point it is created to enhance patient outcomes, or retailers tracking customer behavior throughout visits to their sites to deliver tailored marketing and better service delivery. Even tomorrow’s truly game-changing innovations, such as driverless cars, are expected to make private 5G a critical part of their underlying infrastructure.
With a private 5G network as the foundation, and the support of the right technology partners, all these possibilities (and more) become not just possible, but highly achievable.
Why partnerships are becoming a critical part of the 5G experience
Despite private 5G networks being much easier to implement, the process nonetheless requires specialist engineers that are accredited to work in challenging or remote environments and are able to offer hands-on advice around system integration, ensuring the new network has ample room to scale and evolve.
When looking for the right partner, businesses should not only be looking for one with the in-house networking capabilities, but one that can underpin and support a holistic 5G ecosystem, enabling the delivery of those all-important connected experiences. This should be supported by sector-specific knowledge, ensuring the assigned project teams understand their specific requirements around compliance, security, and performance and ensure these are inherent in the design of the solution.
An early glimpse into the next era of network modernization
While we are some way off experiencing the true benefits of 5G in all aspects of our lives (indeed, many countries are yet to even experience everything 4G has to offer), the UK is already enjoying a considerable head-start. The additional spectrum already released by Ofcom has given many organizations – particularly those in utilities, manufacturing, healthcare and retail – the opportunity to begin exploring the full extent of its capabilities and what they mean for UK businesses. As wide-area network requirements continue to evolve, presenting multiple new challenges, it is the organizations who make 5G an intrinsic part of their own networks who will be best placed to fully leverage all of the opportunities that this technology has to offer, both now and in the years ahead.
In this way, private 5G networks have opened the door to the next era of network modernization.
Mukesh Bavisi, Managing Director, Exponential-e