5G: Making the case for private 5G

This article first appeared in Digital Edge, The Edge Malaysia Weekly, on February 28, 2022 - March 06, 2022.
“Usually, when you think about private 5G, you think of speed and latency. That’s all great, but security is really the main draw.”  - Shahid

“Usually, when you think about private 5G, you think of speed and latency. That’s all great, but security is really the main draw.” - Shahid

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Enterprises around the world should consider building up their private 5G networks for better security and control, observes Shahid Ahmed, executive vice-president of new ventures and innovation at NTT. 

Compared with public 5G networks, private 5G provides enterprises with more security and control. In countries like the US and Europe, a certain spectrum of the network has been or is in the process of being allocated to enterprises to deploy private 5G. 

This is not the case in Malaysia yet. “Businesses in the country still have to go through a carrier to get a private 5G network for their ports, airports, industrial plants or warehouses,” says Shahid.

A key reason why enterprises want to deploy a private 5G network is because they want to improve network security. NTT’s recent Private 5G Here and Now report, which surveyed 216 tech executives in the US, UK and Japan, found that 69% of the executives indicated that the security of their network is their most significant pain point. 

“Usually, when you think about private 5G, you think of speed and latency. That’s all great, but security is really the main draw. Cellular technology has a lot of security inherently built into it already. On top of that, if you get your own spectrum that’s not based on WiFi, you can do a lot from the security perspective,” says Shahid.

The ability to control the network is another huge draw for businesses. “You can provision SIMs as fast or as slow as you want; add or leave users; and connect [the network] to your back office systems. You can do a lot of things if you build your own network,” he adds.

The biggest selling point for private 5G is that it is a key enabler for smart factories and Industrial Revolution 4.0. 

Shahid gives an example. NTT has been assisting a large automotive company to install a private 5G network in its manufacturing plant. The company uses massive automated guided vehicles (AGVs) — the size of a trailer — to transport cars, machinery and raw materials within its factory complex.

“Their biggest challenge was they couldn’t leverage WiFi because they need to have consistent connectivity, high bandwidth, low latency and a secure network. If the data of the AGVs’ movements ever got leaked, you can imagine what the competitors would do with it,” says Shahid.

The company is also using the private 5G network to power its biometric cameras that utilise machine vision to monitor for anomalies and faults along its conveyor belts. “Compared with connecting a bunch of sensors every few centimetres, we can replace it with a camera that has a holistic view of the warehouse. But you’ll need a really fast network behind it because the conveyer belts move very quickly,” he adds.

If companies like this use a public 5G network, they might have to contend with the connectivity dropping during peak hours, he acknowledges. But that is not acceptable for businesses like the automotive company above, whose automated operations cannot be disrupted.

Is it worth it?

The state of automation in Malaysia is not as advanced as that of countries like Germany and Japan. Private LTE (4G) or wireless networks like Sigfox can already meet the needs of manufacturers. 

Shahid agrees that these networks could support a lot of use cases already. However, the draw of 5G is its lower latency and higher speed, which could be useful as the enterprises progress in their automation journey. 

The cost of installation, Shahid observes, can be compatible with WiFi soon. “The chief investment officers want the same economics that they enjoyed with cloud and other software providers, so we have to match their offerings. The economics are getting closer to that of WiFi.”

Most businesses are still opting for managed service providers to roll out private 5G networks at the moment due to the lack of internal resources, but Shahid believes that this will change eventually. “Solution providers are working hard to make it an IT network as opposed to a telco network,” he says. 

Other challenges that businesses face in implementing private 5G networks currently are difficulties in integrating them with legacy systems and infrastructure complexity. 

Malaysia rolled out its 5G network last December in Kuala Lumpur, Putrajaya and Cyberjaya through Digital Nasional Bhd. So far, two telecommunications carriers — YTL Communications Sdn Bhd and Telekom Malaysia Bhd — have joined the network. 

Shahid suggests that regulators open up the spectrum for anybody to build a private 5G network in Malaysia. “My recommendation would be to evaluate and explore, like many Asia-Pacific countries are [doing] today, allocating spectrum directly to enterprises. It not only improves the utility of companies deploying the network but also raises the game of the broader ecosystem to participate and build new applications for enterprises,” he says. 


Findings from NTT’s Private 5G Here and Now report

• 94% of the firms surveyed are planning to implement or are already implementing connectivity and communication upgrades, such as WiFi6, 4G or 5G

• 24% claim they are piloting private 5G networks, most commonly among German (33%) companies, followed by Japanese companies (24%)

• Healthcare, pharmaceutical and life sciences firms are roughly as advanced as or more advanced than other industries when it comes to deployment of private 4G (40%) or 5G networks (23%)

• Most likely implementation approaches:

-     38% prefer to outsource to managed service providers with service level agreements

-     32% prefer the hybrid or shared private network approach, where the network is leased from a mobile network operator via dedicated spectrum or network slicing