While millions of smartphone and internet users in the country anxiously wait for better speed with 5G roll-out, the country equally needs higher efficiencies in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, education, agriculture, financial inclusion and many others to accelerate the process of digital transformation, which can best be achieved only through the use of private captive 5G networks on the premises.
Private 5G captive networks are about the deployment of high speed, enhanced data capacity, and ultra-low latency applications inside a closed manufacturing unit, hospital, airport and shipping port, among others.
Such networks are single end-users (the enterprise itself) in the given location, unlike a vast number of users in public networks.
According to Neil Shah, Vice President of Research, Counterpoint Research, such private 5G networks are going to be self-serving networks ideally suited for large enterprises with huge campuses, premises such as factories, ports, mines, and universities.
‘These enterprises will benefit from efficiently using their own spectrum to connect multiple internet of things (IoT) applications — from surveillance cameras, million dollar sensor-integrated machines for real-time monitoring, predictive maintenance, shop-floor digital twins, automated cranes, vehicles or forklifts,’ Shah told IANS.
This will provide secure, high-speed and low-latency broadband connectivity to enterprise devices such as smartphones, tablets, PCs and augmented reality (AR) glasses for driving up productivity and efficiency.
‘The whole business case of enterprise building on private networks is driven by self-designed, service level agreement (SLAs) cost structure, as spectrum is not a public-shared resource anymore, in addition to offering cellular-grade security and data sovereignty with data ideally not leaving the premises,’ Shah explained.
The Department of Telecom, in its notice inviting applications (NIA) for the auction of spectrum in various bands, provided explicit clarity on the subject of Captive Non-Public Networks (CNPN), or private 5G captive networks.
Section 2.4 of the NIA on CNPN laid down the principle that a CNPN can be set up in any of the four possible ways, including the one where CNPNs for non-telecom verticals may obtain the spectrum directly from DoT and establish their own isolated network.
According to TV Ramachandran, President of the Broadband India Forum (BIF), a public telecom network set up by a telecom licensee would necessarily have to be one which optimises the various needs of the masses.
‘It would not be in a position to meet specific enterprise higher and specific SLAs (service-level agreements) that are characteristic of specific industry verticals. For example, the needs and requirements would be quite different for a Maruti-Suzuki automotive factory from that of an Apollo Hospital or of an IIT Delhi campus, and so on,’ he mentioned.
The regulatory authority in Germany said recently that for many enterprises, operating a campus network is linked to introducing new, digital business processes.
‘The provision of numbers represents a key contribution to the spread of digital technology. It benefits both large industrial enterprises as well as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) wanting to operate private campus networks with their own broadband spectrum assignments and numbers,’ the German regulator noted.
With private 5G networks, enterprises will use licensed cellular spectrum instead of open-for-all unlicensed Wi-Fi spectrum.
However, according to industry experts, it is still not clear if it is lucrative enough for enterprises to build their own licensed spectrum-based captive cellular network or lease the spectrum from mobile network operator (MNO) or buy a network slice from the MNO.
‘It will take at least four-to-five years, looking into the scale of devices connected to the private network and efficient spectrum utilisation, to determine if its prudent enough to deploy your own captive private network,’ Shah told IANS.
India will initially see several deployment scenarios in the market and depending on the size, requirements and execution of an enterprise, it will be clear which scenario is suitable and viable.
(Nishant Arora can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)
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