By: Ganesh Shenbagaraman
Part 10: Open and Private at Once: Open RAN Solutions for Private Networks
In my previous blog, I covered the promise and potential of network slicing. Another deployment use case which has seen tremendous interest and demand is the use of private networks. With the increasing digital connectivity of devices and equipment across different industry verticals and enterprises, there is a rising demand for private or more dedicated connectivity. Such networks are called private networks or non-public networks. As 3GPP defines it, non-public networks are for the exclusive use of a private entity deployed as a standalone network or hosted by an operator or it may be just a slice of an operator’s network. In this blog we will discuss the needs, challenges and solution approaches for private networks and how open and disaggregated solutions are addressing these requirements.
The many verticals, use cases and their needs
There are many market drivers for private networks. First off, Industry 4.0 is here. This means that there is a transformation happening in industries that includes digitization of data, automation of workflows and connectivity to devices. Industry verticals like aerospace, mining, transport and so on are witnessing this change already. The other category of private network users includes enterprises, malls, hospitals, university campuses, etc. Smart cities, outdoor venues like stadiums, and agricultural sectors are another category of private networks.
Given the diverse segments that private networks can cater to, there a lot of interesting use cases. In the case of industries, the use cases could include mobile robots, connected factory floors, industrial automation and sensors. Interactive aircraft maintenance, managing operations of an offshore oil field remotely, and the use of computer vision for predictive maintenance are all also made possible with the use of private networks. Yet another category of use cases specific to outdoor venues and malls are the use of AI enhanced applications with security cameras, sensors and AR/VR based entertainment. There is going to be an explosion of such advanced use cases with the availability of all pervasive 5G networks and dense deployments.
Given the wide range of use cases, the needs are also very diverse and are based on the deployment scenarios in each specific vertical. In the case of industrial networks, reliability (including the ability to provide constant connectivity and withstand interference), availability (recovering from any failure), latency, and security are the most important requirements. In media-oriented use cases like HD camera feed and AR/VR applications, the emphasis is on providing huge amounts of bandwidth on a continuous basis. In almost all of these deployments, the common requirements are ensuring coverage, providing exclusive bandwidth and enforcing security and sovereignty of data. Private network solutions must ensure the appropriate spectrum, deployment architecture and network management features to meet these requirements. Since these networks are typically locally managed and controlled, the network management approach and subscriber management should be simplified and enterprise friendly.
Spectrum and deployment options
To operate private networks, an appropriate spectrum strategy is needed. There are four different approaches that can be adopted: Dedicated licensed spectrum, leased spectrum, shared spectrum, or unlicensed spectrum. In many countries, especially in Europe, national authorities are considering or have already allocated dedicated spectrum for industrial networks. In the U.S., the CBRS spectrum band, which is a shared spectrum, is primarily used for private LTE networks. In addition to the approach of having dedicated spectrum, a private network can be enabled by reserving dedicated slice(s) in 5G operator networks. Private networks also offer new monetization opportunities to operators. In the venues and campuses where there is a need to serve subscribers of multiple operators, a neutral host approach may be used. In this case, different operators share a common network built by a neutral host provider.
Open Disaggregated RAN for private networks
Disaggregated RAN solutions inherently offer the flexibility to suit the variety of deployment needs in the case of private networks. With open interfaces, these RAN components make it easy to deploy multi-vendor private networks. Small cell solutions may be preferred in a neutral host deployment. Private networks often have unique deployment needs with respects to available space, spectrum, processing hardware, environment and enclosures. Open RAN solutions offer a great amount of flexibility and multi-vendor choices in both hardware form factors and software options to enable the appropriate solution and features as per the use cases and deployment scenarios.
In many deployments of private networks, there is a need to customize the implementations to meet some special requirements like additional security and call processing modified specific to the needs of a vertical. Open RAN solutions offer such flexibility. Another common need is to integrate with industry or enterprise-oriented management layer. Deploying such customized private networks tailored to the specific needs in RAN, core network and network management will need an appropriate system integration design, network planning and rollout strategy. This is a space that is evolving and many new players with domain expertise of the vertical and system integration capabilities are now entering into this market.
Further evolution of private networks
3GPP has been focusing on private network and industrial specific requirements including URLLC in Releases 15 and 16. To ensure low latency communication in mission critical use cases, transport aspects like TSN (Time Sensitive Networking) are being included in 3GPP 5G specifications. Further enhancements are planned in Release 17. Studies on the topic of non-public networks and management needs for the same are in progress. The Small Cell Forum published a report on private cellular networks recently. These studies and reports analyze the details of industry needs and challenges to be solved. These include interactions with and roaming in public networks and RAN sharing.
Many OEMs are creating specific solutions to address this market. In the near future, we will see a significant growth of private LTE and 5G networks and many of them based on open and disaggregated architectures. Thus, the market for cellular networks is poised for yet another wave of growth.
That’s a wrap
With this article, this series on disaggregated Open RAN is coming to an end. We have covered in this series, many architectural aspects, industry and standardization trends, deployment aspects and use cases. I hope that you found it all useful. You can find more information about Radisys’ Open RAN solutions and services at https://www.radisys.com/ConnectOpenRAN.
- 3GPP TS 22.261 Service requirements for the 5G system
- 3GPP TS 22.104 Service requirements for cyber-physical control applications in vertical domains
- 3GPP TS 28.807 Study on management of non-public networks