Build, deploy, run: The private 5G network lifecycle
Private 5G networks, to some degree, are billed as a panacea for enterprise business problems—whatever your issue is, throw some high-powered connectivity at it. But that delta between hype and reality as it relates to private 5G is perhaps most pronounced in the high-value manufacturing sector. While there are well-articulated manufacturing use cases that could benefit from cellular connectivity, the variability and complexity inherent in manufacturing environments makes standing up a private 5G network much more complex than, say, a campus network designed for talk, text and mobile data.
Before digging into the challenges, and solutions, presented by manufacturing environments, it’s worth considering the lifecycle of a private 5G network. Jagadeesh Dantuluri, general manager of private networks for Keysight Technologies, broke the lifecycle into three high-level phases: build, plan and deploy, and run, all of which require end-to-end security from device to network to data storage. Let’s double click on each phase.
The build phase includes research and development, validation and certification. Planning and deploying includes radio and network planning, design, deployment, site acceptance, benchmarking and ongoing upgrades. The run phase covers network monitoring, SLA assurance, diagnostics, further optimizations, and predictive analytics.
It’s not exactly a straightforward process and, as evidenced by how telecoms interests are taking private 5G to the manufacturing market, it’s not typically something a manufacturer can do with in-house IT. “The end users typically in this case,” Dantuluri said, “…are not very well aware of the technology or knowledgeable of the technology. That’s a reason the surrounding ecosystem has to help to bring these networks to the market.”
Before you even get to the build phase, Dantuluri said the stakeholders need to start by identifying the use case and looking at spectrum options. From there, it’s important to understand how any legacy technology will (or won’t) be integrated into a new solution.
Indoor manufacturing environments demand custom channel modeling
The next step, he said, is to look at the manufacturing environment in question. “Each of these indoors [environments] are unique in the sense that they are designed for the specific manufacturing use case.” Some less-advanced manufacturing spaces may essentially be a big open room with various fixed work stations. Others can include a good amount of metal surfaces and equipment, thick concrete, objects in motion, mobile workers, and a whole range of variables that would impact radio design. The solution here, he explained, is to work with a company like Keysight to do custom channel modeling using a higher fidelity planning tool, and following a deterministic method for verifying actual on-site KPIs.
In terms of timeline to get from the first phase to the open-ended run phase, Dantuluri said it could be a matter of weeks, or it could be a matter of years if there’s a need to engage in a protracted proof of concept process. “A textile manufacturing facility where the QA requirements are less, the penalty of stoppage of the network is very small. In that scenario, the deployment will be faster…It depends on the application.”
For more on 5G-enabled manufacturing, check out the on-demand 5G Manufacturing Forum.