Why do you need a mobile private network?

Mobile private networks are currently a hot topic in the enterprise space. But while 5G is getting much of the focus, for many businesses a 4G mobile private network provides more than enough capability – and at a lower cost. Mike Kennett, Freshwave’s Senior Consultant and Head of Regulatory Affairs, looks at some of the considerations for businesses considering a mobile private network.  

Mobile private networks have emerged in the last 2-3 years due to the availability of spectrum and lightweight core software and they offer exciting new opportunities for enterprises. They are secure, use uncontested spectrum, allow full control of service quality and devices, enable wide area coverage, and we’re already using them in several commercial deployments for our customers.

Mobile World Congress 2022 saw a big presence from new players in mobile such as AWS and Microsoft, as they will be a facilitator and supplier of adaptable mobile private network services. Inevitably in this new market some have their preferred terminology for much the same thing: private networks, private 5G, private 4G, private LTE, campus networks, private mobile networks or private cellular networks. We prefer the term mobile private networks as it’s not prescriptive about the mobile technology (4G or 5G) and its acronym MPN is widely used.

So how much spectrum and how many Gs do you need? That depends on the specific customer requirements and that’s always our starting point before considering the spectrum and technology options.

What are the different spectrum options?

Spectrum is essential for any MPN. There are three relevant local licence types in the UK, all issued by Ofcom.

  • Shared access licences (SALs) use non-MNO spectrum in four dedicated bands: Two LTE bands, the upper n77 5G band, and a mmWave band. We have several SALs for MPNs at our UK offices and have arranged them for customers. Ofcom is now proposing to add a fifth (upper 6 GHz) band which is part of the n96 5G band. This will more than double the total amount of 5G SAL spectrum to over 1000 MHz. We’re supportive of Ofcom’s proposals, although harmonisation with other countries may be needed to help ensure the cost-effective availability of suitable equipment for this band.
  • Local access licences (LALs) use MNO spectrum but need specific approval from the relevant MNO, so they usually take longer to arrange. They are also more expensive than SALs. As of February this year there were only 21 in the UK, of which Freshwave has five providing commercial services. In fact, we’re proud to have been the very first provider an MNO shared spectrum with, having agreed this with Vodafone back in 2019.
  • Innovation and trial licences are a good option for pre-commercial networks. Again, we’ve arranged several licences in MNO bands and built 5G MPNs to support ongoing innovation with some of our partners.

Thanks to our close relationships with the MNOs, if MNO spectrum is required we’re able to get in touch with the right people there before applying for the licence. We agree the technical conditions needed to ensure coexistence with their networks and this speeds up the LAL or innovation licence process.

Unfortunately there’s a patchwork of different MPN bands used in Europe and globally, so many vendors have been reluctant to develop equipment for the upper n77 band in particular. However in December the European Community mandated the European Conference of Postal and Telecommunications Administrations (CEPT) to assess harmonisation of this band across the EU, which should help influence vendor product roadmaps.

Do I need 4G or 5G technology?

Despite the hype around private 5G, 4G technology is often sufficient for the current needs of many businesses. And it’s significantly cheaper than 5G due to the wide variety of products available. For example,  we’re providing broadband connectivity at multiple holiday parks around the UK using (5G-ready) 4G MPN infrastructure. We’ve won awards for it in fact!

4G is also adequate for many other use cases such as push-to-talk over cellular (PoC), predictive maintenance and even augmented reality (AR).

5G technology is nevertheless essential for use cases where low latency is needed, such as virtual reality (VR), robotics and remotely controlled vehicles. Or where there simply isn’t enough 4G spectrum available locally.

You may have heard the term Industry 4.0 used in connection with MPNs. This is one of the broad categories of MPN use cases referred to frequently. Many of the applications needed in a modern manufacturing facility are complex, so introduction of a solution based on an MPN is not trivial.

Nevertheless, significant benefits can be achieved simply by using an MPN to replace physical cabling, without changing the existing application. An MPN gives the customer the flexibility to reconfigure a factory quickly and easily without expensive re-cabling. We see use of MPN for cable replacement as a quick win in the migration to Industry 4.0.

In conclusion, MPNs are here now and already providing business benefits. Depending on the customer requirements, readily available 4G technology (with an upgrade path to 5G) is often sufficient. Cable replacement is a simple MPN use case which is applicable to many verticals and can bring real, immediate benefits for those looking to explore Industry 4.0. We’re uniquely placed to provide a complete MPN service for a wide variety of customers as we are technology and vendor agnostic, and have existing relationships with the MNOs (should their spectrum be needed).

If you’re looking to solve a complex local connectivity issue and are wondering if a mobile private network might be what you need, please contact info@freshwavegroup.com.