Private 5G networks are coming

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The Industrial Internet of Things (IoT) will drive adoption of private 5G networks, some are saying.

In fact, automakers BMW; Daimler, which makes Mercedes vehicles; and Volkswagen have told the German spectrum manager BNA (Federal Network Agency) that they are “interested in operating local 5G networks,” Markus Fasse and Stephan Scheuer wrote in a recent Handelsblatt Global article.

Separately, network equipment vendor Qualcomm says it’s working on 5G NR technologies for private, industrial IoT networks.

“Replacing wired industrial Ethernet for reconfigurable factories with our ultra-reliable, ultra-low latency 5G NR link” can be accomplished, Qualcomm says on its website.

Interestingly, while 5G has been bandied around in the auto industry as being a suitable next-generation radio technology for autonomous vehicles to talk to each other — those self-driving cars will need to share large amounts of data, something 5G promises to deliver — this private use case is as much for the networks within the factories that build the cars.

In-house 5G provisioning will allow enterprises to define their own security implementations rather than trusting mobile network operators (MNOs), Fasse and Scheuer wrote. It will also allow sensitive, proprietary data to stay local.

Qualcomm, too, says there’s a market for the kind of “stringent privacy and security restrictions” that could be delivered by going private, or “local” as it’s sometimes called. Additional advantages include configuring the low-latency technology to tailored and precise, real-time performance requirements — because one isn’t reliant on “interworking with public networks,” Qualcomm explains in a white paper (pdf).

The vendor also says enterprises should take advantage of the industry’s shift to automation a la Industrial IoT, artificial intelligence, machine learning, robots, and so on, which coincides with the development of promised low-latency, highly reliable, hard-wire-replacing 5G. Businesses should grab it all, in other words.

5G will be better in factories than already-being-implemented LTE and Wi-Fi because it has better performance, Qualcomm says. Robotic motion control, which can need millisecond updating, is one example in which better performance is needed. Time Sensitive Networking (TSN), where flexible slots are used for efficient synchronization of machines, for example, is also part of the package.

The rush for spectrum

Of course, the big question is where the spectrum is going to come from.

“There’s a gold rush atmosphere about it,” said Jochen Homann, the head of Germany’s Federal Network Agency, in the Handelsblatt Global article. Numerous industrial verticals apparently have been asking about private spectrum, and Volkswagen Group is already working with telco equipment maker Ericsson on a test laboratory.

In the U.S., Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) at 3.5 GHz is about to become available. That would be suitable, Qualcomm says. Alternatives to CBRS might include existing MNO-licensed spectrum morphed with a corporate agreement — enterprise runs the network on the MNO’s frequencies.

A hybrid-like suggestion, also proposed by Qualcomm, could be in play, too. That would be where the enterprise operating the factory independently manages 5G at the local-area network or production-line level, while an operator provides the sensors and connects the private 5G element to the WAN.

Fasse and Scheuer, however, question the extent MNOs will go toward helping local or private 5G networks because it could eat into their business models. In fact, they say, three major European MNOs have “spoken out against local [private] 5G networks.”

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