The Enterprise 5G Opportunity
Since the start of its development and the first standardization work in The 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP), 5G has always focused on providing cellular connectivity for enterprise verticals, in addition to the legacy consumer focus in which previous generations excelled. For the enterprise community, 5G is much more than just “4G + another G,” as the distinct features of 5G enable connectivity for completely new applications in several enterprise verticals:
- The connectivity of up to 1 million devices per Square Kilometer (km2) will enable setting up highly dense wireless sensor networks for the permanent monitoring of workflows in different enterprise environments.
- The supported bandwidth of 10 Gigabits per Second (Gbps) in the uplink and 20 Gbps in the downlink (through Enhanced Mobile Broadband (eMBB) capabilities) will further enable automation, particularly for data-intensive processes, allowing for more remotely operated and automated workflows.
- The guaranteed network availability and reliability enables automating mission-critical use cases, in particular, while the sub-10 Millisecond (ms) latencies make industrial 5G fit for real-time enterprise applications.
Successfully addressing the enterprise opportunity requires the telco industry to adjust its offerings to address more demanding conditions than what it is used to in the consumer domain.
Importantly, enterprises are looking to deploy a cellular 5G network to automate very heterogenous use cases. Therefore, requirements will be considerably more complex than what the telco industry is used to with deployments in the consumer domain.
Secondly, enterprises approach 5G deployment projects from a pain point-focused perspective. The value proposition of 5G, therefore, needs to be targeted toward how 5G connectivity can address these pain points directly. Finally, enterprises are looking for easily deployable and manageable connectivity solutions, rather than building up traditional telco knowledge themselves.
To guarantee easy deployments, enterprises also require one company as their central interface to introduce connectivity solutions. Initiatives by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to open up spectrum on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) have further enabled new players to provide cellular connectivity solutions to enterprises in the United States.
The ecosystem to provide connectivity solutions to enterprises is significantly more complex than what communication providers and infrastructure vendors have been used to in the consumer domain. On one hand, this includes legacy players, such as industrial automation vendors, while on the other hand, the ecosystem is expanding as demand for cloud capabilities and specifically designed enterprise applications become integral parts of an enterprise connectivity 5G solution. Figure 1 provides an overview of the fragmented ecosystem landscape.
Enterprises Need a Navigator to Guide Them Through Different Deployment Options
While enterprise 5G use cases continue to mature, enterprises will need a navigator guiding them to a private wireless connectivity solution that fits their requirements exactly. Most importantly, this applies to providing the right deployment option for enterprise 5G connectivity. While a broad distinction can be made between providing a dedicated network slice to enterprises and deploying a private network on enterprise premises, a new notion of Non-Public Networks (NPNs) emerges, leveraging public and private network resources. Looking at the basic components of a cellular network (i.e., Radio Access Network (RAN), transport, and core network), there are two different ways to combine public and private network resources.
First, a dedicated enterprise network could share the RAN with the public network, while all other functions (including the core network) would be deployed on-premises. For example, an enterprise-deployed NPN at a large factory, warehousing site, or shipping and air ports could use providers’ existing spectrum resources in low-band spectrum (sub-1 GHz) as a coverage layer and combine this with CBRS spectrum as the capacity layer as needed.
Second, the enterprise network could also share the RAN and parts of the core with the public network. As most enterprises do not want to compromise on network integrity by moving the user plane to an off-premises location, the on-premises connectivity infrastructure would share the RAN and the control plane with the public network. While this reduces deployment costs for an enterprise network even further, it also allows enterprises to hand over control of network operation and functionality, and can therefore be particularly appealing to small and medium-sized enterprises without the capabilities to manage and operate the network on their own.
For carriers, the emergence of this new notion of Public Network-Integrated (PNI)-NPNs increases the value of existing public network resources. It also changes the market dynamics for the provision of enterprise connectivity. While for isolated private network deployments, carrier-owned public network resources are less important, they will provide additional value for NPN deployments and, hence, will increase traditional Communication Service Providers’ (CSPs) value proposition for enterprise cellular connectivity.
Apart from public cellular network resources, cloud deployment models are becoming more and more important for enterprise 5G, both for data storage and for processing payloads. The introduction of a cloud-native core, as well as a Virtualized RAN (vRAN) underline this development, as this allows for easily scalable End-to-End (E2E) connectivity solutions. Appreciating the requirement for integrity of at least part of the networking data (such as the condition of production assets in a factory environment, or sensitive patient data in a hospital environment), enterprise 5G deployments will most likely rely on hybrid cloud solutions to be able to separate sensitive and mission-critical data (to be processed in the private cloud) from non-mission-critical data (that can be rerouted to public cloud resources. By using public cloud resources, such a solution can contribute to further Total Cost of Operation (TCO) reduction, while the provision of a private cloud ensures integrity of sensitive networking data. Being able to provide enterprises with the right cloud deployment model requires sufficient know-how and experience in orchestrating payloads between public and private cloud resources.
System Integrators Have an Advantage in Driving Partnerships for Enterprise 5G Deployments
Providing full 5G E2E connectivity solutions for enterprises in the United States requires a product portfolio that spans a range of very different domains, including data analytics capabilities, storage, experience in converging Operational Technology (OT) and Information Technology (IT) networks, devices and device management, and access to spectrum (could be through CBRS). While it would theoretically be possible for any single provider (CSPs, infrastructure vendors, or hyperscalers, for example) to gradually build up expertise in additional domains from scratch, this would be both resource and cost intensive, and would ultimately prolong the time-to-market for enterprise 5G solutions. In addition, most of the relevant know-how and experience already exists in the market today.
Using existing domain expertise to provide customizable E2E 5G solutions to enterprises, however, requires a proven track record of system integration capabilities, and System Integrators (SIs) are well positioned to fill this spot for several reasons. As the name suggests, SIs have been integrating different components to fully-fledged connectivity systems and solutions from the beginning.
Consequently, they have managed to build up a mature network of ecosystem partnerships to draw together relevant domain expertise from hyperscalers, application developers, infrastructure vendors, and CSPs in the United States. They can also provide a central interface to manufacturers, hospital operators, or utility companies, so that an implementing enterprise would not have to deal with every single component provider separately.
Furthermore, SIs already have mature business relationships with enterprises in place and are seen as trusted partners to introduce new connectivity technologies. Therefore, SIs can build a bridge between enterprises and their requirements on the one hand, and the traditional telco industry on the other hand.
Our whitepaper, The Role of System Integrators for Enterprise 5G Deployments, further details the numerous implications and deployment options within the enterprise 5G ecosystem. This article was co-written by ABI Research Senior Analyst Leo Gergs and Wipro Vice President and Sector Head of Communications, Media, and Infoservices, Malay Joshi. The article and whitepaper are both sponsored by Wipro.