Private 5G: Not As Scary As You Think

This syndicated post originally appeared at Network Computing.

When one thinks of 5G, it’s easy to associate the technology with complex carrier deployments, but enterprise-focused companies, like VMware, have designed products for corporate environments.

Private 5G has been a hot topic of late. A recent ZK Research survey found that 92% of organizations have or plan to deploy private cellular. The interest in private 5G is high, but there is some trepidation among enterprises as network engineers fear the complexity to deploy the technology. At VMware Explore 2023, Ram Venketaramani, VMware’s senior director of private mobility and edge, led a session titled “Are You Afraid of Adopting Private 5G?”

The goal of the session was to discuss the capabilities of VMware Private Mobile Network and, more importantly, help the audience understand that deploying the technology has gotten significantly simpler. When one thinks of 5G or cellular, it’s easy to associate the technology with complex carrier deployments, but enterprise-focused companies, like VMware, have designed the products for corporate environments.

Venketaramani started by saying that the pace of change has been spurring the modernization of technologies at the edge of the network. “If you go into a retail industry, you see applications like loss prevention and fraud detection,” he said. “If you go into manufacturing, you have automated inventory management—like autonomous robots which are connected wirelessly.”

Private 5G vs. Wi-Fi

He said the use cases are adding up at the edge of the network. But they’re all connected using a patchwork of Wi-Fi and traditional wired LAN connections. He said that a typical factory for John Deere has on the order of 30,000 miles of wired connectivity.

Wi-Fi, the usual alternative to wired connections in the enterprise, doesn’t support all the conditions needed for wireless connections. It can be inconsistent and can’t easily prioritize traffic. And when nothing is a priority, everything is a priority—which leads to chaos. Cellular technologies are designed to be more reliable and are ideally suited for mission-critical applications that run over a wireless network. So, with the needs of the modern enterprise in mind, Ram said VMware thought it was time to re-think how we connect all these devices at the edge of the network.

Private 4G and 5G can provide the dedicated spectrum needed for one or multiple sites. An enterprise can easily prioritize traffic and bandwidth. For example, an IoT device shouldn’t need more than 20 kbps. But for video, you will likely need a lot more. A private network can slice and dice based on needs and applications—and then throttle speed as appropriate.

Private 5G use cases

Of course, none of this means anything unless there are real-world use cases. Carl Temme, SVP of product for Federated Wireless, joined the session to discuss customer case studies. He shared that CalPoly was using VMware Private Mobile Network for comprehensive in-building and outdoor wireless coverage on its 9,000+ acre campus.

“It’s a beautiful campus if you’re a student, a faculty member, or a cow,” Temme said. “But it’s not great if you’re a radio wave because there’s lots of obstructions and hills to get through.” The university wanted to eliminate those dead spots. So Federated worked with T-Mobile to implement the private mobile network.

The United States Marine Corps uses VMware Private Mobile Network for warehouse automation, including private 5G CBRS networking coverage for over one million square feet. Temme said that this Marine Corps warehouse is complicated, with the challenge of moving everything from ballpoint pens to tanks through their logistics operation.

“They wanted to put in automatic storage and retrieval and guided vehicles and automate and modernize their whole warehouse operation,” he said. “They saved a tremendous amount of money and gained a lot of efficiency through that.”

The core components of VMware’s Private Mobile Network are as follows:

  • Cloud orchestration: Using a unified console, the company says this will simplify management and operations for multi-tenant sites.
  • IT integration: VMware utilizes its cloud orchestrator here (which should reduce the need for additional IT tools) and integrates edge compute, transport, networking, and device intelligence.
  • Managed service: This should enable providers to use their expertise alongside VMware’s IT tools to provide private connectivity.
  • Private core and RAN: VMware enables a split between on-prem and cloud, depending on need. The company also offers certification to RAN vendors, so providers have an ecosystem to choose from.

Putting the news into perspective

We see this announcement as moving the needle one or two ticks in the right direction. The companies that build 4G/5G for telcos, such as Ericsson and Nokia, are far too complicated and overkill for most organizations. VMware understands the needs of enterprise network managers and makes it possible for organizations like CalPoly and the Marine Corps to deploy it.

The future is at the edge—and needs will only grow. We see the market doubling to over $100 billion in the next five years. In a market this dynamic, it will be critical for VMware and its ecosystem partners to continue the pace of innovation. That means expanding the use cases, eliminating the risks, simplifying deployments, and keeping costs under control.

Author: Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.