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Why 5G Isn't Just For Carriers

by Sean Michael Kerner
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The emergence of private 5G networks could change enterprise networking and enable more pervasive wireless connectivity.

5G, the next generation of wireless cellular communications, is a big deal. It offers the promise of lower power utilization, higher bandwidth and greater concurrency than any prior cellular standard.

While 5G is now becoming a reality in the U.S. and in other parts of the world, it's important to understand it's not just for carriers. Sure carriers are going to be the primary use case by volume, but there is an emerging and growing use case for 5G deployment by enterprises.

To be clear, I'm not talking about enterprises giving its employees access to 5G devices, I'm talking about enterprises building their own private 5G networks - and no you couldn't do that with 4G/LTE easily if at all. Private 5G networks can potentially be used for operational technology (OT) and IoT use cases where Wi-Fi isn't feasible or simply just won't work.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)

There are a number of technology elements that make private 5G deployments feasible. The first and perhaps most important is the fact that spectrum - that is, the radio frequencies used by 5G cellular - can be provisioned for private use. That's where an emerging technology known as Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) comes into play. CBRS was established in 2015 by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to enable the 3.5Ghz band, which can be used for 5G, for private allocations.

There is also a nascent market for 5G/LTE radios, commonly referred to as Small Cells, which are available for organizations to buy. Then there is the software, or the network packet core that is needed to power and control the radio. Luckily, that's a space where open source technology has found a home as well with the Magma Core project, which is supported by the Open Infrastructure Foundation.

Now putting that all together could be a project for an organization to do on its own, or they can engage from a growing ecosystem of vendors. Among those vendors is FreedomFi, led by the former co-founder of OpenStack vendor Mirantis. On Oct. 19, FreedomFi announced that it was launching an appliance that helps to enable 5G - and it's only $300.

"The biggest benefit of 5G is not faster speed, but efficiencies unlocked through software-centric architecture," said Renski. "Ultimately, it is not about streaming videos faster and doing VR in select hotspots, but about connecting the next billion people in emerging geographies or matching Private 5G economics to that of Wi-Fi for the enterprise use cases."

No, I don't expect that every organization will need or want to set up its own 5G networks in the way they had to deploy Wi-Fi. That said, private 5G is still in its infancy and no doubt it will find its way into an increasing number of enterprises in the years to come.

This article was originally published on Thursday Oct 29th 2020