20 May 2022

Private Networks, disaggregation of telecoms supply chains and SONICLabs

Dr Dritan Kaleshi, Director of Technology - 5G and Co-Director of SONIC(SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre) Labs at Digital Catapult writes about the importance of private 5G networks and disaggregation in future proofing business needs, its role in technological innovation, and the new phase of the DCMS-funded SONIC Labs programme led by Digital Catapult and Ofcom.  

What are private networks? 

It is becoming particularly challenging to write or speak about private networks as they tend to divide opinion at the moment. Experienced people in industry will say, rightly, that private networks are not a ‘5G concept’, as  most cellular private networks today use previous generation mobile solutions. However, I strongly believe that one of the key changes in the business domain that 5G has brought is the fact that 5G is the first generation of mobile technology that is crossing by design the  boundary from being a telecommunication technology to being an IT enterprise networking technology - and this is what makes enterprises so interested in private 5G networks.

The evidence is that enterprises, from manufacturing and construction to the creative industries, have begun to look towards private 5G networks to address their current and future connectivity needs. Private 5G networks are ones that are developed for a particular organisation or enterprise, using the 5th generation of mobile connectivity. They can operate alone, but most likely they will co-exist with other connectivity technologies, including WiFi. Operating on a dedicated shared access licensed spectrum, they allow organisations to connect many devices without having to compromise on the quality of service, due to specific technical characteristics in terms of network management, security and multi-device capability. These networks are only accessible within specifically-defined geographical areas such as factories, university campuses, warehouses, or across sites of the same organisation. 

What are the benefits of private 5G networks for business? 

5G is an attractive proposition for businesses, given its technical capabilities combined with the convenience of being able to have a private network. 

5G’s bespoke level of coverage, high performance, reliability, flexible multi-service network management, built-in network security, multi-device support, reduced latency - particularly when combined with the flexibility of private networks - make it a very strong addition to other forms of connectivity, including  WiFi. The ability to overlay multiple types of connected applications (voice, video, Internet of Things (IoT), and low latency control) in a secure managed connectivity infrastructure make 5G a  compelling proposition  to be explored by  businesses - not only to improve their existing services, but also to address future demands.

The evidence for this exists in several projects in the UK, as well as internationally, both in industry private investment and in many DCMS-funded Industrial 5G Testbeds & Trials programmes - including ones coordinated by Digital Catapult that used private 5G networks as a core element of their experimentation. Companies such as Toshiba and Siemens (5G Encode),  Ford (5GEM), BAE Systems and AMRC (5G Factory of the Future) and BAM Nuttall (AMC2) have tested using private 5G networks together with new business models to deliver better productivity, efficiency and a range of new services and opportunities. 

Benefits of disaggregation to private networks and technological innovation 

We are in the middle of a technology and market shift towards more open network solutions as a means to diversify the telecommunication supply chain.  

Open RAN,  an established industry initiative, is delivering open specification of technology components in the radio network that is allowing a number of new vendors, as well as established ones, to enter the telecommunications supply chain. However, products are under development, they need to reach maturity and, most importantly, they need to interoperate with one another out of the box.  

To help the development of such products, and support the industry new entrants and the UK ecosystem, Digital Catapult and Ofcom, with funding from UK Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, set up SONIC Labs. ​​The labs are designed to be a collaborative environment for testing the interoperability and integration of open and software-centric networks and solutions from multiple vendors, as well as help identify enablers and barriers that may influence open network adoption by Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), private network owners, neutral-host service providers, and other wireless operators. 

And the connection between diversification, SONIC Labs, and 5G private networks? It is very simple; scaling up products to meet national operator deployments might not be immediately possible for some of the new entrants into the market, but it is quite possible to deliver smaller scale 5G private networks using these products. This will allow not only the maturation of the mobile technology products but also support the necessary ecosystem around that, with the knowledge base and skills for system integrators, installers, and IT network management required for this to be a success. I genuinely look forward to seeing products that come out of the development testing in SONIC Labs that mature further to be deployed in UK 5G private networks.   

Who is SONIC Labs for? 

Digital Catapult supports enterprises in adoption of 5G Private Networks. SONIC Labs supports Open RAN network companies who have either mature or ready to test products and would like to build an end to end ecosystem or solution with other vendors’ Open RAN products, enabling the solution to be commercialised in the telecommunications market.   

Guest blog by Dr Dritan Kaleshi, Director of Technology - 5G and Co-Director of SONIC(SmartRAN Open Network Interoperability Centre) Labs at Digital Catapult. Visit https://www.digicatapult.org.uk/how-we-can-help/our-labs/sonic-labs/ to learn more about SONIC Labs capabilities and register to be kept up-to-date on future opportunities. Follow Digital Catapult on Twitter and LinkedIn

Private Networks User Guides & podcast

Private networks: a new user guide by techUK

Our #techUKPrivateNetworks campaign week celebrated the publication of a new user guide techUK has produced, to help prospective private networks customers, across enterprise and the public sector, understand the key benefits of adopting advanced connectivity in their organisations. The guide helps users as they formulate a business case for investing in enhanced private networks, and the key success factors. We also shine a spotlight on several case studies. 

Private networks: a techUK user guide

Gain a clear understanding of the benefits of adopting private network technology for your business with this techUK user guide.

Download for free

Private network ecosystem: Management model - A new techUK guide

techUK's Advanced Communications Services Working Group created a new guide for organisations considering building out services using 5G networking technology entitled 'Private network ecosystem: Management model'

It introduces and describes the principles of neutral hosts, and then goes on to describe the architecture and ecosystem which supports the provision of shared services, particularly in the context of high capacity/low latency applications, which will drive 5G deployment. While this paper is focussed on 5G, many of the principles of neutral hosts, and the discussion of edge versus core provision will apply to other technologies such as Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6.

Private network ecosystem: Management model

A technical guide by techUK for users of private networks, outlining how the ecosystem is managed. It outlines the architecture of edge native applications in the architecture of the ecosystem, the value chain and operating models, resilience, operations, and the role of Neutral Hosts. 

Download for free


The techUK podcast: Making the case for Private Networks

In this episode of the techUK podcast, we explore the topic of private networks for enterprise, specifically, how we can accelerate the deployment of private networks from beyond the testbed phase and drive adoption across industry and the public sector.  

The episode covers the key challenges for enterprise customers that the telecoms sector can address with advanced connectivity services, including 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and how we, the supplier base, can effectively deliver on the benefits of private networks. 

Sophie James, Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy at techUK, joins a conversation with Simon Parry, CTO at Nokia EnterpriseCatherine Gull, Consultant at Cellnex and Dez O’Connor, Senior Manager at Cisco. Sophie also catches up with Mike Kennett, Senior Consultant & Head of Regulatory Affairs at Freshwave



To read more from the Future Private Networks campaign week check out our landing page here