Excitement over the capabilities of 5G technology is driving more organizations to adopt private cellular networks. According to a new report from Juniper Research, global spending on private cellular networks will more than double from $5.5 billion in 2021 to $12 billion by 2023.
Private cellular networks give organizations more control over wireless connectivity while enabling them to avoid the monthly subscription cost of a carrier’s public network. Like Wi-Fi, private cellular uses unlicensed radio frequencies. The FCC has established the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), allowing organizations to share radio frequencies in the 3550MHz to 3700MHz range with incumbent military and fixed satellite services and priority licensees.
Several manufacturers now offer access points (APs), centralized controllers and cloud-based services that enable organizations to set up a private cellular network in much the same way as a Wi-Fi network. Juniper Research predicts that 5G base stations will be used in more than 60 percent of these deployments by 2023, as organizations seek to take advantage of 5G’s ultra-low latency and signal propagation.
Why Not Wi-Fi?
Carrier cellular networks provide seamless connectivity across most of the U.S., creating tremendous value for devices that require mobility. But what about devices that never leave a particular facility? Medical devices in a hospital and bar code scanners in a warehouse are two obvious examples. Does it make sense to pay for a nationwide network that these devices never use?
Wi-Fi is the traditional choice for devices that need wireless connectivity but don’t require access to a carrier’s cellular network. Wi-Fi is compatible with a wide range of devices, and the latest standards provide the coverage, capacity and performance to support growing numbers of users and applications.
However, Wi-Fi signals don’t propagate well in some environments. The hospital and the warehouse provide good examples. Masonry walls, lots of metal — there are many obstacles that cause radio interference in the Wi-Fi frequency range. To overcome those physical barriers, organizations must build more density into the Wi-Fi network, increasing the cost and complexity of the Wi-Fi deployment.
Wi-Fi also has a very limited range, and public cellular networks are not available in remote areas. Private cellular offers the ability to extend network coverage to mining and drilling operations, ships, offshore platforms and other areas public cellular service doesn’t reach. According to Juniper Research, the energy, manufacturing and mining industries will account for 59 percent of the private 5G network spend in 2023.
Security and Control
Organizations have control over the design of their private cellular networks. This allows for more consistent service levels because the network is not subject to external traffic patterns or carrier network outages. Controlled traffic levels and shorter distances between devices and the network core enable low latency for Internet of Things (IoT) and AI applications.
Private cellular networks also enable more robust security because sensitive data doesn’t have to traverse a public network. Users must “subscribe” to the private network, providing visibility into the attributes of each device and the ability to tailor services that are offered to each user. Users are authenticated and data is encrypted for greater protection.
Carrier cellular networks continue to offer unmatched mobility and security, while Wi-Fi remains an essential part of the local network environment. For certain use cases, however, private cellular offers the benefits of a fixed-cost network with greater coverage, capacity and control. 5G ups the ante, giving organizations the extended reach and performance to support latency-sensitive applications and emerging IoT and AI use cases.