Estimated reading time: 10 minutes
All over the world, large organizations are building their own cellular private networks. The tech delivers the fast, secure and reliable connectivity needed to hand manual processes over to smart machines. Here are seven examples of private networking in action.
Industrialists have always looked for ways to improve efficiency. Their motivation is obvious: produce more stuff in less time and you can beat your competitors. In 1913, Henry Ford did just that. He invented the assembly line and the production time for a single car dropped from 12 hours to 93 minutes.
A century later, nothing has really changed. Manufacturers are still engaged in a race to save time and cut costs. Today, it’s all about handing manual processes over to smart machines that can analyse situations and make decisions in real time.
This is, of course, the Internet of Things.
And organizations of all kinds are investigating its potential to transform their operations.
It goes without saying that connecting people, devices and things requires a fast, low-latency network. But in the industrial context, it also requires connectivity that is secure and discrete.
Building in strong security from the ground up is the best way stop hackers intercepting sensitive data. And by keeping the private network separate from the public network, an enterprise can (usually) ensure consistent and reliable connectivity.
For a growing number of organizations, 5G provides the best private networking tech.
5G is compelling because its infrastructure is different from previous cellular generations. 3G and 4G were built on hardware-based network functions. By contrast, 5G is ‘cloud-native’, with network functions residing in software as a Virtual Network Function (VNF) or Cloud-native Network Function (CNF).
The transition to software makes it possible for a mobile network operator (MNO) to offer parts of its core network to private enterprises. In effect, this means organisations can run their own MNVOs walled off from the public network.
There is one more element needed to deliver a fast and reliable local network: multi-access edge computing (MEC).
MEC brings data processing (and analysis) closer to where the data is actually generated: to people and devices. MNOs can use MEC to allocate bandwidth to enterprises – so that these organisations can run their own mini-networks customised to their needs.
The organization owns the wireless spectrum, the network base stations and other infrastructure. This serves to isolates its users and data from other public networks.
Demand for private cellular networks is booming
Analysts are confident that private network capability will power a vibrant new market. According to ABI Research, it could generate revenues of $64 billion by 2030.
And research suggests that large enterprises are already committing to the tech. A 2021 Economist survey of 216 C-level decision-makers from the UK, US, Germany, and Japan found that 51 percent play to deploy a private 5G within the next six to 24 months.
#1. They are reliable
Cellular networks are very dependable, which is essential for mission-critical applications that require constant connectivity. Indeed, the industry has even developed 5G Ultra Reliable Low Latency Communication (URLLC) service to support use cases such as remote diagnosis/surgery, emergency response, autonomous driving etc.
#2. They offer low latency
Some use cases can handle a little lag. Others simply don’t function unless there is near-real-time connectivity. Latency in 4G networks is around 50ms-70ms. With 5G, it can go to 1ms. This opens up new possibilities for latency-sensitive applications.
#3. They connect millions of devices
The industrial IoT cannot prosper if there’s a limit on device numbers. It’s almost impossible to overload a 5G private network. 5G can support 1 million devices per square kilometer.
#4. They are quick to build
It’s feasible to deploy a new private network in a days or hours. The virtualization of the network makes it more scalable – and it also serves to standardise some of the
equipment needed to deploy.
#5. They are secure
5G private networks are discrete from the public network, which reduces the risk of infiltration. Furthermore, the nature of standalone 5G technology in itself deliver strong protections.
Now that next-gen 5G network infrastructure is rolling out, let’s look at some real use cases.
1. The factory floor
US manufacturing has undergone a revival in recent years. After decades of outsourcing, companies are ‘in shoring’ – and much of this is due to automation. Firms are building high-speed private networks to automate complex tasks in an enclosed factory environment.
US-based Ice Mobility is one example. This supply chain logistics company is using 5G and MEC to power computer-vision-assisted product picking and packing, as well as quality assurance (QA). Hi-def cameras can detect how much time operators are spending on a unique order or task, and even conduct training with the help of augmented reality.
2. The airport
Air France, Groupe ADP and Ericsson are building out 5G standalone private networks at Paris-Charles de Gaulle, Paris-Orly and Paris-Le Bourget airports.
The partners say they can use fast and discrete 5G connectivity to improve 25 different work processes related to the aircraft, including refuelling, maintenance, baggage handling and cleaning. Analysts have studied the Paris project and believe high-speed low latency connections will transform operations such as:
• Monitoring equipment in non-aircraft vehicles on runways
• Powering instant group communication to speed up activities such as refuelling
• Optimizing workloads for transferring passenger baggage
• Doing maintenance remotely via a video link
3. The port
The biggest cargo ships can carry 21,000 containers. It’s a mind-boggling number, and it helps to explain why container shipping has transformed global trade. Obviously, the world’s ports are keen to invest in any innovation that can speed up the loading and unloading of these boxes at their busy locations.
Unsurprisingly, they are already investing in 5G private networking. In 2020, the Belgian Port of Zeebrugge completed the first phase of its deployment.
It is working with Nokia to connect devices across multiple port-based applications in real time. In the first phase it will apply the tech to tugboats, air pollution detectors, security cameras and quay sensors.
4. Emergency services
Can you build a private 5G network into a truck? Yes you can. US mobile operator Verizon describes its emergency vehicle THOR as the “the Swiss-Army Knife of frontline services”. THOR (Tactical Humanitarian Operations Response) is a modified Ford F650 that was designed to give first responders access to high-quality communications and applications under nearly any conditions. Fighting wildfires, for example.
THOR can do this because it contains a fully functional 5G ultra-wideband network combined with a MEC platform. Its first responder users can connect to mission-critical push-to-talk solutions and even control drones via smartphones equipped with the Ericsson MCPTT client.
5. The stadium
With so many improvements in remote entertainment, the race is on to reinvent the live experience. Increasingly, organizers of sporting events, music festivals and the like are beginning to see the potential of how high-bandwidth, low latency connectivity inside the stadium.
A case in point is the Orange Velodrome in Marseilles. In 2019, it became Last November, the Orange Vélodrome in Marseille became the first 5G-equipped stadium in France.
The project focused on giving spectators access to a range of new experiences. For example, with 360-degree view cameras in place just behind the goal lines, fans could see the game from the goal keeper’s perspective. The cameras would stream video at transmit latency-free video at resolutions up to 8K to spectators using their smartphones as virtual reality headsets.
6. The railways
On the eastern border of Hungary, work is under way on the first smart rail logistics terminal in Europe to use its own 5G network. The East-West Gate (EWG) Intermodal Terminal will become a new hub for continental freight traffic between Asia and Europe.
5G technology will be used to remotely control land terminal giant cranes. This will enable the terminal to handle up to one million twenty-foot equivalent unit (TEU) containers a year.
The EWG project is one among many. All over the world, railway operators are exploring how 5G private networks can help them to improve traffic forecasts, orchestrate train movements, monitor power consumption and transform the passenger experience with comfortable, seamless journeys and new services.
7. The nuclear plant
France leads in its deployment of nuclear energy. Nuclear contributes around 70 percent of the country’s total electricity production – the highest in the world. In 2021, France further demonstrated its commitment to the fuel by announcing it would deploy secure private 4G networks at all 56 of its reactors.
Électricité de France (EDF) appointed Thales and Ericsson to design and supply the networks, with a view to an evolution to 5G in the long term. The first deployment at the Blayais power plant is already live.
The partners say private networking will improve performance, maintenance, operations and logistics at the plants. However, security is also a key driver of the scheme. An official statement said: “Enhanced connectivity… will allow employees and partners to have remote access to all business documentation, while also allowing support from back-office experts via secure terminals.”