More options present enterprises with different challenges and opportunities
The choice of what spectrum to use is key to the success of a 5G private network, and not all spectrum choices are equal. Choosing the spectrum that fits your needs is paramount for enterprise digital transformation, but there are attendant tradeoffs. The questions around private network spectrum remain top of mind for many enterprise executives beginning or undergoing digital transformation. And the top-line message from an assembled collection of spectrum stakeholders was, to put it simply, coexistence.
With vast institutional experience in Wi-Fi, some enterprises look at it as a one-size-fits-all approach to solving every wireless connectivity problem. Traditional Wi-Fi certainly has trouble with that burden, but the standard is moving forward just as 3GPP standards do, noted Richard Bernhardt, national spectrum advisor for the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA).
”Use the tool that makes the most sense”
“There is no one or the other necessity,” said Bernhardt, speaking at Arden Media’s Private Networks Global Forum panel entitled “A spectrum of spectrum: understanding your options.”
“They’re compatible,” he noted. “When you underestimate the value and use of Wi-Fi, you run into problems. You use the tool that makes the most sense in the right application.”
“It will depend on the application,” said Sam Darwish, 5G sales manager of test and measurement specialist Viavi Solutions. Simply put, he suggested that different use cases demand deployment scenarios.
Asimakis Kokkos, who heads Technology Ecosystems at Nokia Enterprise Solutions and also serves as the Technical Specification Group Chair for MulteFire Alliance (MFA), noted that businesses are led by outcome-driven decisions, not technology. The goal for enterprise private network should achieve the business outcome using whatever technology is optimally suited.
“That’s where 5G is going to play the role here, to bridge the gap,” he said.
The Tower of Babel
Global enterprises have an additional challenge, asserted Darwish: “When we’ve got so many different implementations…you’ve got unlicensed spectrum, you have different technology at different parts of the spectrum in different countries.”
Enterprises with global footprints will find bespoke solutions designed for one region may fail regulatory or technical muster in remote locations. Off the shelf and out of the box solutions will enable some companies at smaller scale to deploy solutions, said Darwish. But navigating those myriad spectrum challenges, he continued, will be best handled by system integrators and other experts.
“I see the opportunity for vendors to offer this as a service rather than an out-of-the-box solution,” he said, adding that this is especially true for companies running critical production applications.
Bernhardt predicts the rise of a class of businesses focused on offering custom solutions for enterprise customers.
“I think it’s the opening of a whole new industry. It allows for some great customizations and localizations we weren’t seeing before You can make networks work in specific regions, you can have them for specific applications and uses, and I think the managed service portion of this is ripe for that,” he said.
“IoT, SCADA [Supervisory Control and Data Acquisition], agriculture, there are vertical markets all over the place that are just waiting to have some of this come in,” he added.
Another practical consideration for Sam Darwish is the use of unlicensed devices that can wreak havoc on private networks.
“You’re never certain of what’s actually in that spectrum because people have amplifiers, inverters, lots of different electronics everywhere across the whole globe, and we never know where they’ll resonate. You need to make sure that spectrum is clear, that it’s safe, make sure that it’s no interference that is going to cause a problem,” he said.
The case for harmonization
With so much variation in the spectrum, Prakash Sangam, Tantra Analyst founder, expressed concern about spectrum fragmentation across different regions. Spectrum harmonization is the solution, but he wondered about implementation.
“We need to keep our options open, but getting everybody to agree on the same spectrum for industry would be very helpful… If you look at 3GPP, they have a lot of options for combining spectrum together, they’re all there. I think it needs some courage and effort to try to identify this, and maybe regulators can play role here, if they can harmonize between different countries,” said MFA’s Kokkos.
Christian Regnier, chairman, PRIVINNET/EUWENA (European Users of Wireless Enterprise Network Association), noted that there is no EU accordance for spectrum harmonization. Germany, France, and the United Kingdom have disparate spectrum and usage rules for private networks, he explained.
“In some countries, you don’t have any spectrum for private networks,” he said. The absence of European Union member country harmonization around spectrum use is the problem EUWENA is focused on, he added, to enable private network use to drive Industry 4.0 transformation.
Technical innovations for private networks have emerged that enable more efficient spectrum usage and easier multi-spectrum coexistence, noted Bernhardt, who reframed a consistent theme from the other speakers: that this is very much still a work in progress.
“If we can at least take things and go low middle and high, the low bands, the mid-bands and the millimeter waves and so forth, and then figure out how to use these tools that we’re beginning to develop, then harmonization between countries and different uses will allow a lot more options and much more robust systems,” Bernhardt said.