Private 5G networks to deliver early benefits

Stuart Corner

5G technology enables the creation of private networks that could provide organisations with low latency, high speed communications for a huge array of applications, transforming their operations.

Potential applications for private 5G, and the issues surrounding their introduction in Australia were discussed in a Verizon Age of Trust podcast where InnovationAus publisher Corrie McLeod talked to Rob Joyce, chief technology officer at Nokia Oceania, John Stanton, chief executive of the Communications Alliance and Toby Redshaw, senior vice-president for enterprise innovation and 5G solutions with Verizon.

Mr Redshaw described private 5G as “a communications network with a supercomputer, really close to your endpoint. You can do some clever things with that computer at the edge and a really fat bandwidth with a low latency network.”

He predicted private 5G would come to the fore in 2021 and 2022 and he urged organisations to familiarise themselves with the technology and make an early start on exploring the potential of private 5G or risk being left behind.

Podcast: Corrie McLeod, Verizon’s Toby Redshaw, Communications Alliance’ John Stanton and Nokia’s Rob Joyce

“You learn this stuff by doing, not by reading about it or watching a PowerPoint,” he said. “It’s early days, but it’s such a pivotal technology, you need to get your hands on it and get stuck in.

“The good news for Australia is this is just the beginning. You’re not behind yet. But a year or two from now, if you’re not far down the path, your operational cost structure and your output, whether it’s manufacturing or ports or in healthcare, will be behind others. So there is a little bit of urgency.”

Another piece of good news, according to Nokia’s Rob Joyce, is that the 5G network technology has advanced to a point where network rollout and operation has become much simpler.

“A private enterprise network is now a one box solution. The Nokia product, the cloud edge server that goes at the customer’s premises is everything in one box, and you connect that to the standard radios for coverage. … I think customers that are happy installing their own systems can do it using systems like this from us and other vendors. Or a communications partner or a telco can install it and provide a managed service.”

However private 5G needs spectrum as well as technology. The 5G standards enable both to be provided by mobile network operators hiving off a portion of their networks to an organisation using a 5G feature called network slicing. Or, if an organisation can gain direct access to spectrum it can install its own fully private 5G network.

Availability of spectrum will depend on rules being developed by the Australia Communications and Media Authority (ACMA), and Mr Stanton said the organisation was well advanced in allocating spectrum for private 5G networks.

“The ACMA has been reflecting on [private 5G] in the five-year spectrum outlook it puts together on a rolling annual basis. They have allocated, I think, 400MHz for apparatus license services in the millimetre wave bands already. This can be used for mobile services, for example, a 5G private network put in at an airport.”

He said the ACMA had also identified spectrum at 60GHz and 70GHz and in the C band (3.3-4.2GHz, identified by the Global Mobile Suppliers Assocation as the most important spectrum band for 5G).

“They’re trying to create a range of different spectrum options and license types which could be used for 5G private services,” Mr Stanton said.

“So without being able to attest that those will always work for every application and aspiration in the 5G private arena, I think we can look to at least having a reasonable framework of available spectrum for those purposes.”

However, Mr Joyce said the spectrum requirements of private 5G networks in some industries would likely change significantly, week to week so having access to dedicated spectrum might not suit all use cases. “We definitely need some really clever ways of allocating spectrum.”

John Stanton questioned the likely demand for fully private 5G networks in Australia, suggesting that organisations would be able to get the functionality without the technical challenges of setting up and operating a private 5G network by taking advantage of functionality provided by mobile operators.

“I’m looking to see how much of the demand for private 5G in Australia will be met through network slicing offered by telco providers, who may well be partnering with IoT network operators in Australia, which are burgeoning now, to create an integrated offering that is effectively 5G private service but contained within a network slice,” he said.

“Not everybody is going to be as capable as a big mining company of putting in place its own system with all of the intricacies that involves. So, the way that the market divides will be very interesting in Australia because after all we’re not the biggest market in the world.”

Whatever deployment models of private 5G networks emerge in Australia the podcast participants said their impact would be significant.

Mr Joyce likened the nascent possibilities of private 5G to a blank canvas. “We’ve given people latencies down to one millisecond, we’ve given them wide area coverage, we’ve given them bandwidths up to 5Gbps in the extreme. Now it’s up to Toby [Redshaw] and the pioneers to decide how they can use this.”

Mr Redshaw responded, saying the potential applications he found most exciting were: “we are going to revolutionise healthcare. And we’re going to change education, and hopefully do that in a way that breaks through socioeconomic and geographic barriers.”

This podcast was produced by InnovationAus in partnership with Verizon Business Group. The views and opinions expressed by guest speakers do not necessarily reflect the view or position of Verizon.

Do you know more? Contact James Riley via Email.

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