What Are Private 5G Networks?

5G makes private networks much more appealing

Private networks aren't new, but they take on a whole new form with 5G. A business wanting to bring low lag and ultra-high-speed benefits indoors for its own purposes has to either connect to an existing public network or build a private one.

5G, especially when used in sectors such as manufacturing, blurs the line and strengthens the relationship between physical production and digital technology. 5G's real-time data capabilities allow for next-gen applications, and coupled with smart tech, cloud computing, and enhanced automation, it's a driving force behind the Fourth Industrial Revolution.

Illustration of a factory and global internet connections

What Is a Private Network?

Sometimes called NPNs (Non-Public Networks), private 5G networks are similar to the 5G that's available all over the world—the same tech is used and they deliver some of the same benefits. The difference is that they're private, so they’re not available to just anyone.

These networks are deployed exclusively for non-public use, like for schools, hospitals, factory floors, and other businesses or government facilities. They’re self-contained and can be constructed anywhere, like within specific buildings or factories.

Since they’re not used by the public, the business doesn’t have to wait for rollout plans to finish or deal with thousands of people clogging up the airwaves and negatively affecting the network’s performance.

Private 5G Network Benefits

There are several advantages that come with private 5G networks that aren’t realized in public ones. The most obvious is controlled network load. 5G that’s open for anyone to use can get bogged down (despite 5G's fast speeds) with thousands of devices competing for bandwidth, thus stripping valuable load from some of the more data-hungry and important use cases.

For example, a factory that’s using private 5G can have it accessible only for high bandwidth-demanding scenarios related to production or sales, or AR, VR, automation, video conferencing, surveillance, robotics, large data transfers, analysis, sensors, etc.

A majority of the network’s capacity could be designated to just a handful of things to make all of them work at maximum efficiency, something that’s much harder to control in a public network. Plus, data doesn’t need to traverse several routers because all the resources needed for the network are housed at one location.

A public network deals with its data publicly and has to serve thousands of users at once. A campus, hospital, or private company using a non-public 5G network could leverage edge computing to process all of its data near or on-site for greater security and faster communications, and maintenance can be done in-house with their own support team.

How They’re Deployed

A 5G public network can be deployed in two ways. The company can buy its own hardware and get help from an existing network operator or it can do the entire deployment itself by purchasing its own 5G spectrum.

3GPP describes them this way:

  • As a public network-integrated NPN (PNI-NPN) which is a non-public network deployed with the support of a PLMN.
  • As a stand-alone NPN (SNPN) that’s operated by an NPN operator and doesn’t rely on network functions provided by a PLMN (public land mobile network).

One example of a private 5G network is what Verizon Business offers. It lets businesses deploy their own private 5G network on site.

They demonstrated this in late 2020 when they ran indoor cell site trials that targeted 5G inside of buildings so that high-performance mmWave coverage can be realized for indoor spaces like manufacturing facilities, warehouses, and schools.

According to Verizon:

A private 5G network will offer customers the potential to have the cloud within their facility. It will accelerate enterprise automation and digitization efforts, and with Verizon’s mmWave bandwidth and reliability, it will offer the scalability to manage massive numbers of devices along with advanced capabilities such as Edge AI, computer vision and other emerging technologies.

Some of AT&T's mmWave 5G enterprise customers are using on-premise edge compute hardware to trial private 5G networks for their businesses. Some use cases include augmented reality in retail stores and autonomous cars that don't need built-in data processing abilities.

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