Mark Bole, the CEO of Quortus, a private mobile network software provider, caught up with RCR Wireless News to discuss what enterprise decision makers should keep in mind when deciding if, how and where to use private cellular in their facilities and how enterprises of different sizes are tackling the challenge of managing their networks as they continue to become more complex.
Q: How should an enterprise approach choosing between Wi-Fi, public cellular or private cellular?
Bole: Our response is, don’t start with the technology, that’s not the right first question. A better place to start is thinking about your use cases and objectives because the use case helps inform a lot of the decision making, and your objective can be things like are you trying to improve efficiency, are you trying to be innovative, are you trying to shift your business model, do you want to move away from a CAPAX type of approach?
Then, you can start exploring, from those objectives and use cases, some of the key questions.
Q: And what are some of those key questions?
Bole: The questions that often differentiate when we’re in discussion with potential enterprise segments is, what’s their view on spectrum? If they’re happy to operate in unlicensed spectrum and accept the degree of best efforts with that, that opens up Wi-Fi in a way that isn’t true if they’re not. Or if they don’t have access to their own spectrum, that limits their ability to use private 5G and be forced to go to public 5G.
So, after use, spectrum … is important to keep in mind. And then next is security. Is the WPA-3 with Wi-Fi 6 sufficient [for]the business’ nature, or is the tighter security specifications developed through 3GPP necessary or appropriate? Then, in terms of the private vs. public, that’s more about to what extent do you need to have the benefits of a dedicated network and then to have it optimized. With a private network, you can optimize the uplinks, the downlinks; you can optimize it on a dynamic basis and you can determine your own coverage in a way that public 5G won’t give you.
Q: Wi-Fi and cellular co-existence is discussed often, but what about private and public cellular co-existence? How might an enterprise make use of those two together?
Bole: We are already seeing this. Take a practical example, like industry — factories, warehouse, logistics. In the factory in particular, there is a lot of sensitivity about data, so a private network, and an edge-based network is often the preferred choice. There are a lot of reasons, when it comes to sensitive data, that you might want a private, edge-based network right there in the factory.
But then, as you move into warehousing and logistics, there are still a lot of benefits of a private network. But at the same time, if you have a device that is monitoring something manufactured at the factory as it travels to the warehouse and then to the distribution channel, you need to be able to keep connectivity even though it’s moving in between different facilities. That might require that you roam onto a public network, so the wide-area nature of 5G helps facilitate that.
Therefore, in some cases, it might be more convenient to get a dedicated network slice from a public carrier.
So, yes, there is co-existence, but it’s for more complex cases. Many of the cases we’re seeing today are people looking to trial it with a view to choose between one or other, but we do see coexistence between public and private as well as with Wi-Fi.
Q: As networks become more complicated, have you noticed a trend of enterprises or venues hiring entire new teams to make these connectivity decisions and then manage these networks?
Bole: We are a private network provider, but we don’t deal directly with the end enterprise. We have a channel partner that sits between us and them. The value of a channel partner is that they understand the really detailed needs and requirement of that end enterprise. They’re then able to work with the enterprise’s IT teams and help guide them. So, yes, enterprises are building more competence and awareness of private networks, but we are seeing everything from small to major system integrators and other channel partners being able to provide that level of competence themselves to assist the enterprise.
Some big enterprises, for sure, are looking to take all of this in house to make sure they’re controlling it. But a lot of enterprises can’t afford to do that, because they don’t know for sure if they’ll get the return.
So, one way to approach that is through channel partners. The other is that we can provide it as a service, so the end enterprise doesn’t have to worry about the CapEx cost or how to build up a team that knows how to manage a 5G core network. This way it can fit into their business model on an operational expense basis, rather than an upfront investment.
To answer your questions, large enterprises, yes, we’re seeing them build up real competence around private networking–but the majority are developing their competence base, but are not hiring lots of people; rather, they’re looking for partners who can provide a dual offer. This is helps enterprise move into the world of private networks without having to come up a huge learning curve and a huge risk mitigation challenge.
Q: Is there a lot of concern from enterprises about deploying an LTE private network when we’re on the cusp of 5G?
Bole: We quite often get approached by an enterprise or channel partners that say they’re looking at a private 5G network, and then what happens after a bit of discussion is that it’s realized that all of the benefits that they’re looking to achieve can be achieved without having to wait for 5G to become a more mature ecosystem. A lot of those benefits can be achieved with LTE.
But, you don’t want to be buying into what is to become legacy technology. That’s where it’s important to have the right deployment approach. By that what I mean is that we’ve been developing a fully cloud-native 5G core. A key part of that development is so that it’s a smooth transition from LTE to 5G.
You need to plan for that transition, though. A lot of people do have concerns about it, but many people that are new to the private cellular world haven’t had the experience of how the 3GPP standardization, as well as the industry ecosystem, does provide a lot of different mechanisms that enable support for a smooth transition than if you were moving from 2G to 3G, for example. 4G to 5G is all about enable massive shifts in business models, but in terms of the evolution of the technology base, there are ways that can be dealt with.
For more information on private wireless networks in the enterprise and how they compare to Wi-Fi and public networks, check out RCR Wireless News’ webinar on the topic.
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