The rollout of 5G technology is a story of almost limitless potential, punctuated by a frustrating inability to truly fulfill that potential. As we argued in a previous blog, deploying 5G infrastructure at the digital edge and empowering the mobile developer community are two steps that network service providers (NSPs) must take to unlock the full power of 5G for their customers.
Another factor that NSPs must consider is the growing demand for private 5G services. Many large enterprises are interested in private 5G because they see it as the best of both worlds: the high performance and low-latency connectivity of 5G paired with the security and customization they can only get from a private network. According to ABI Research, the market for private cellular networks will explode to $100 billion by 2030, up from only $7 billion in 2023.[i]
Why private 5G? What can private 5G do that public 5G can’t?
If an organization only uses public networks, they won’t be able to take advantage of everything that 5G technology has to offer. For instance, 5G allows enterprises to integrate non-3GPP access networks such as Wi-Fi networks. Consider a retail chain that has many different stores in a metro area, with each store hosting wireless access points. A private 5G network would allow the retailer to centralize its Wi-Fi access controllers instead of deploying them in the field. In fact, they could host their 5G and Wi-Fi infrastructure in the same core locations, making it easier for them to support devices that can use either 5G or Wi-Fi connectivity.
Ethernet over private 5G is another use case that wouldn’t be applicable to the mass consumer market but could be extremely beneficial for enterprises. Since 5G devices can function as Layer 2 network switches, enterprises can use private 5G networks to help modernize their Ethernet strategy. Compared with continuing to invest in traditional wireline network infrastructure, Ethernet over private 5G provides a simpler, more cost-effective option. For example, ATMs can use private 5G networks for built-in Layer 2 wireless access capabilities. This removes the need for bank network operators to build complex firewalls and dedicated private Layer 3 networks to support them.
How can enterprises streamline their private 5G deployments?
While the potential benefits of private 5G are clear, the question of how best to deploy it isn’t always so obvious. Like any other private network, a private 5G deployment requires infrastructure that can be expensive and time-consuming to deploy. It also requires in-house expertise to manage it effectively. In the Equinix 2023 Global Tech Trends Survey (GTTS), 46% of global IT leaders said that the possibility of increased OPEX costs would deter them from adopting a newer technology like 5G, while 42% said a lack of internal knowledge would be a deterrent.
Private 5G is a new technology, and it thus has new infrastructure requirements. The conventional data centers you’ve relied on in the past are likely not up to the task of supporting private 5G.
At Equinix, we’ve made it our goal to offer our customers optimized, real-time access to everything that private 5G networks have to offer. We achieve this by helping them stand up the right 5G infrastructure in the right locations, quickly and cost-effectively. All of the functions and components that make up a private 5G network can be deployed at Equinix in real time using the power of automation. Whether enterprises are starting from scratch or integrating their own on-premises infrastructure, we make it easy for them to get started with private 5G.
When customers choose to work with Equinix to support their private 5G deployments, they also get access to our dense partner ecosystems, including 2,100+ NSPs. We work closely with these NSPs to ensure their technology performs well on Equinix infrastructure. We also partner with leading systems integrators that can help our customers deploy the NSP technologies quickly and easily.
Equinix helps enterprises host the right 5G infrastructure in the right places
Perhaps most importantly, Equinix can help customers host their private 5G user plane function (UPF) in our Equinix IBX® colocation data centers. Since the UPF serves as the hub for aggregating and breaking out 5G traffic, it’s crucial for enterprises to host their private 5G UPF in the right location. Specifically, the UPF needs to be hosted at the digital edge to ensure low-latency connectivity and operational efficiency across the entire network. Since Equinix data centers are available in 70+ metros worldwide, we empower our customers to deploy their UPFs wherever their digital edge might be.
Customers can use Equinix Fabric®, our software-defined interconnection solution, to dynamically set virtual connections between their UPF and other critical network components. This could include compute platforms at the digital edge, hosted either on colocated hardware or on Equinix Metal®, our single-tenant Bare Metal as a Service (BMaaS) offering. Customers can also choose to host their private 5G core at Equinix or in a public cloud environment. Either way, they can easily interconnect that core to the rest of their Equinix footprint.
The hosted UPF can also route 5G traffic to strategic services and partner ecosystems located on Platform Equinix®. To enable end-to-end oversight and management of the private 5G network, customers can deploy network timing and control services at Equinix—once again, either on Equinix Metal or on colocated hardware. Any privately owned 5G infrastructure that the customer might have—such as on-premises UPFs or RANs—can connect to their Equinix infrastructure via private, low-latency interconnection.
Finally, customers can connect their private 5G infrastructure to their NSP’s public 5G environment. This helps ensure redundancy and support for any mobile assets that may exit and re-enter the private 5G coverage zone frequently.
The diagram below shows what an optimized real-time private 5G deployment might look like, using the example of a retailer that operates a fleet of connected trucks to service its local stores. As described in the paragraphs above, there are seven key steps the retailer might take to stand up their private 5G network, using a combination of on-premises, Equinix and partner services:
- The customer deploys 5G assets in their on-premises environment.
- The customer connects to a public 5G network operated by an NSP.
- The customer deploys a UPF at Equinix.
- The hosted UPF routes traffic to the customer’s compute infrastructure.
- The hosted UPF routes traffic to the customer’s 5G core, either at Equinix or in the public cloud.
- The hosted UPF routes traffic to critical services and partner ecosystems.
- The customer enables network timing and control services.
Start exploring the possibilities of private 5G with help from Equinix
The Equinix 5G Edge Development Framework is the new test and development environment we created to help mobile developers try out our optimized, real-time approach to 5G. This new framework is powered by free5GC, an open-source software package that enables simulated RAN, UPF and 5G core components as virtual devices. At the heart of the framework is a virtual router from our Network Edge portfolio, which connects the simulated 5G functions with extremely low latency.
Mobile developers can use the framework to test their 5G architecture before committing to deploy it in production. This allows them to see first-hand how placing infrastructure in certain locations could impact the performance of their private 5G networks.
One example of a relevant use case is 5G Enterprise Mobile/Fixed Hybrid/Multicloud access. We used the 5G Edge Development Framework (which we call “FORTE”—5G Optimized by Real-Time Edge) to showcase private, low-latency access from the 5G Standalone network (including the UPF, control plane, gNB and UE) to multiple public clouds, an edge computing cloud and the internet. To do this, we used Equinix Fabric, Network Edge, Equinix Metal and Equinix Internet Access (formerly Equinix Connect) services.
For more details on the 5G Edge Developers Framework and how to get started using it for yourself, visit our GitHub page. The page includes information on how to deploy a demo of the 5G Enterprise Mobile/Fixed Hybrid/Multicloud use case.
[i] “Private Cellular Networks Will Reach a Value of Almost US$100 Billion by 2030 – But Important Lessons Need to be Learned!,” ABI Research, February 23, 2023.