The demand for private 5G is there. Here are 3 challenges standing in its way

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Ubiquitous wireless connectivity for everything is the challenge we’re trying to achieve. If only it were that easy.

As it stands, existing Wi-Fi networks and 4G LTE networks are not capable of connecting the sheer amounts of devices that we expect them to connect. And there’s more.

The demand for bandwidth is also constantly growing. According to Cisco, mobile data traffic is expected to reach an annual run rate of 930 exabytes per year by 2022. If average traffic per mobile user per month was about 2.3 GB in 2017, then in 2022, it’s estimated to be around 13.3 GB per month. Virtual and augmented reality are expected to be the biggest bandwidth hogs.

Many believe that 5G technology is the solution. Early private 5G adopters are expected to start testing these networks by the end of this year. But there are some roadblocks they must overcome along the way.

Here are three key challenges standing in the way of private 5G.

1. Regulatory challenges

To improve 5G network throughput, you need more radio spectrum. Unfortunately, spectrum is not an easily available resource.

Most of it falls under so-called “licensed” spectrum. Mobile operators pay a significant price to use this spectrum, and in most countries, usage is regulated by governing agencies, like the FCC in the U.S. or the CEPT in Europe.

Whether it’s for a meter outside your home where data output is low or machine-to-machine communication on a factory floor that requires more bandwidth – 5G networks today demand spectrum from low- (Sub-1 GHz), mid- (1-6 GHz), and high-bands (above 6 GHz). Herein lies the initial challenge.

5G needs to address the entire range of spectrum (which is a limited resource). Therefore, we must figure out how to accommodate the difference in propagation of radio waves based on frequency

The expansion of mobile networks into the use of unlicensed spectrum has created an opportunity for private 5G deployments. This will give enterprises strict control over network performance, security, and application.

2. Technical challenges

We know lower frequency waves propagate to higher distances (given the same power level). Current 4G LTE networks utilize spectrum of 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 1.7/2.1 GHz, 2.3 GHz, and 2.5 GHz.

5G brings about the adoption of the higher frequencies (6 GHz and higher), letting us transfer higher data rates. Transmission on these higher frequencies also significantly reduces serialization delays, bringing overall network latency down from 40 milliseconds for 4G to 25 milliseconds for 5G networks (theoretical one millisecond).

The problem is the coverage area of these higher frequencies is much smaller.

So, what’s the solution?

In high-density locations like cities, downtowns, and business centers, we will need to increase overall cell tower count. In these areas, where land to build is scarce, public service providers and private building owners must work out an agreement to let the former build on the latter’s property.

Of course, this would only account for outdoor coverage. We’ll still need to prevent coverage from dropping when you move indoors.

3. Connectivity and security challenges

Today, many Wi-Fi manufacturers are using CBRS bands to try and take advantage of extra spectral bandwidth. But this is not a real 5G implementation. Real integration requires consideration for roaming. But ubiquitous connectivity is complicated.

Let’s consider manufacturing floor control for a moment. It may seem like a good idea to connect all your programmable logic controllers (PLCs) and sensors to private 5G and abandon roaming to achieve stronger information security (private communication). But there are security ramifications to consider.

For instance, what will happen when people come onto the manufacturing floor? Their phones and personal devices with 5G capabilities could also become potential sensors and data sources (as well as control points).

Ultimately, information security is a function of client and server, as well as system and software admin and user. Unfortunately, adding security measures onto the network always cripples connectivity. Despite wanting to deliver broad network connectivity, network engineers must also contend with imperfect software and the possibility of user mistakes.

Nonetheless, broad network connectivity enables countless use cases for IoT and personal communication. Public clouds like Amazon AWS, Azure, or Google Cloud also use broad network connectivity. Some providers also allow us to create our own private cloud instances on their platforms and apply additional security measures to protect software and data assets riding the public clouds.

Integration of public and private 5G helps solve these problems

How can we accomplish broad network access with private 5G? By integrating certain areas between public and private 5G. Of course, this isn’t a simple fix.

Many networks are working on this development – starting with private networks (current Wi-Fi systems) and slowly integrating into a larger network (Internet). Through this, public and private 5G networks will allow you to onboard devices, enabling sustained service without disruption regardless of your location.

Of course, make no mistake, unless you’re working somewhere where security is the top priority (e.g., Department of Defense), it’s virtually impossible to imagine a fully private network today.

5G remains a work in progress

While many of us enjoy Internet connectivity wherever we go, there are many challenges standing in the way of private 5G.

Addressing the need for spectrum and greater availability of higher frequencies, as well as building cohesion between public and private 5G networks aren’t quick fixes. Still, that doesn’t mean networks are going to stop trying to make it happen.