5G private network operations: What do you need to know?
A private network is the first step towards the digitalization of many industries, with mission-critical infrastructure upgrades providing ultra-low latency and high reliability. But once implemented, how do you operate it to ensure all critical SLAs are met? And how do private network operations differ from public network operations?
Over the last few decades, private local (LAN) and wide area networks (WAN) have been synonymous with ethernet, fiber or Wi-Fi. What private branch exchange (PBX) did to voice telephony, in terms of providing secured internal exchange to enterprises, 5G has the potential to do same with private networks, providing a dedicated, secure and reliable network for various industries.
The next five to seven years will see an explosion of 5G private networks catering to different industry verticals like automotive, ports, mines, manufacturing and a plethora of mission-critical services. Ultra-high reliability, ultra-low latency, 99.999 percent availability, and very high security are some of the characteristics 5G private networks will be capable of.
What are private networks and why are they so important for Industry 4.0?
Private 4G networks have been around for years, but they’re still few and far between. However, with 5G’s sub-millisecond latency, ultra-high throughput, the business case for the proliferation of private 5G networks is expected to be more widespread. 3GPP calls them non-public networks or NPN, and are intended for the sole use of a private entity, be it a big enterprise or government. Use cases for such private networks are:
- Mission-critical functions like public safety and national security, emergency response and government systems
- Digitalization of industries like oil rigs, mining, retail, and so on
- Enabling an Industry 4.0 ecosystem. For example, smart manufacturing, warehouses, and autonomous fleet management
- Critical infrastructure like ports, airports, healthcare, and railways
There are several ways private networks can be deployed that are driven by factors such as spectrum availability with the service provider, wide/local area deployment, how network management or operations are performed, and so on. Deployment can either be standalone (independent of public network), in conjunction with public network or a hybrid deployment, as shown below.
As shown in figure 1 above, broadly speaking there are three modes a private network can be configured, based on whether it has private coverage, some infrastructure stored locally and both RAN, or Core deployed locally. Think of model A as a network enabled via Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) where only the coverage is private while all infrastructure is provided by a public network (from the CSP).
Model B typically represents a network where, while RAN and Core are shared from a public network, the private network also hosts few local services. Model C is a full standalone private network with both RAN and Core deployed on-premises. Model C typically fulfills the most stringent requirements related to reliability, availability and latency due to closer proximity of the Core with the network.
Importance of private network operations
There are some key challenges in private network operations:
- How private networks are deployed
- Meeting business critical requirements and strict service level agreements (SLAs)
- How to handle a relatively smaller network in an efficient way. CSPs’ public networks are operated via a fully-fledged managed service offering, but what about private network operations?
- Secure data and user access management. Which data should be off-premise, and which should stay on-premise?
- How to scale up the network, on demand and on-need basis
Ericsson’s whitepaper, ‘Critical capabilities for private 5G networks’, stresses the importance of operations and lifecycle management (LCM) of a critical system. Operations are considered as important as the system itself, to guarantee automated deployment and maintenance throughout the network’s life. Robust operations and post-deployment services are integral for a private network to reduce onboarding time, secure business critical SLAs, critical issue resolution times, and meeting security standards, for example, ISO27000.
Previously, I’ve talked about 5G network operations with its key pillars being AI, automation and analytics. Private network operations need all this and much more. Although private networks are smaller than a typical CSP’s public network, they are highly complex to operate due to business requirements and the use cases it serves.
Key features for private network operations and how Ericsson helps manage them
Private network operations should have following key features:
- Provisions to avoid OSS/CRM integration to enable quick time to market for service providers. It should provide web-based dashboards to provide different views of the network, such as:
- A service provider view providing network KPIs, for example, end-to-end (E2E) latency and availability
- An enterprise view depicting service level details about uplink/downlink throughput, number of connected users and related service KPIs
- Root cause analysis (RCA) and recommended actions
- Full closed-loop, self-healing automation to fix problems
- To meet critical SLA resolution time, which is generally 50 percent less than public network operations, (for example, from 4 hours to 2 hours), predictive AI-based frameworks are needed. The operations must be able to predict the problems before they happen in most cases
- Continuous feedback between the AI framework and automation loop to train the framework for future potential issue resolutions like automated runbook
- Accuracy and effectiveness score for the recommended solution
Ericsson has been providing managed services to networks that serve approximately 1 billion subscriptions. The Ericsson Operations Engine runs the entire Managed Services offering. It is designed to handle the increased complexity of networks operations, with AI, automation, data analytics and a wealth of processes, tools and human expertise in the telco domain.
To address 5G (and 4G) private network operations, Ericsson Operations Engine offers highly efficient operations of private networks through automation and AI/ML frameworks. It also provides identity access management for security and provisions for easy scalability to support local and wide area private networks. The figure below provides a brief service/technical scope of Ericsson’s Operations Engine serving private network operations.
Ericsson is already supporting private network operations for Deutsche Telekom in a unique combination of private and public networks called a “dual-slice” solution. It consists of a private communications network for network operations and staff, combined with the public network for devices that aren’t allowed to transmit in the private network.
Private networks are a big opportunity for CSPs, government and enterprises
Private networks are a great opportunity for service providers, governments and industry. For service providers it unleashes new business and revenue streams and potential new customers. It provides a great chance for governments to invest in the most advanced wireless technological ecosystem and upgrade their critical infrastructures ensuring increased safety and wellbeing for their citizens. For industries it’s a necessity which will enable their journey towards digitalization, helping them reduce operational inefficiencies and maximize business performance, thereby improving customer experience.
Private networks are an extremely important 5G business case and will become more prominent as global 5G rollouts continue. But managing the networks is just as important as the networks themselves. Look out for more information around Ericsson Operations Engine and how it can help the CSPs in addressing the complexity around private network operations– and while you’re here, listen to our Ericsson Operations Engine podcast series, for everything you need to know about managed services and network operations.
Want to know more?
Read Rajat’s previous blog post, 5G is here: What do you need to know about intent-based networks?
Visit Ericsson Managed Services to find more insights about AI-enabled network operations.