Democratization of private networks in 5G to boost industrial development | Opinion | Connectivity

Ricardo Silva, Director of Operations at Blue Telecom Consulting.

In the current situation, marked by a great impact on the main sector that generated the most income in Spain, tourism, it is more than necessary to promote other industries with innovative measures that facilitate the deployment of new activities and that can lead to wealth and employment, especially in other geographical areas beyond the usual centralism.

New technologies are the most suitable catalysts for this, yes, supported on fundamental pillars, such as flexible and innovative normative and regulatory frameworks, contributions to development (from a research and financial perspective) and a quality educational system based on training for employment.

It should be noted that promoting new industries should not be framed only in the digital transformation of existing companies, but also in the attraction of new automated industries that identify as facilities the cheap availability of industrial land, the existence of excellent communication routes and the availability of flexible and independent telecommunications infrastructures, and all this with few bureaucratic obstacles.

“The industry needs robust, low latency and secure wireless connectivity”

With the increasing use of IIoT robots, cameras, devices and sensors, the industry needs robust, low latency and secure wireless connectivity. Reliable connectivity, secure data management and widespread process automation are playing a critical role in the evolution of Industry 4.0. It is clear that one of the catalysts par excellence may be to have a unified, open and intelligent connectivity factory that is flexible, elastic and agile enough to provide the required services. In short, a 5G network, and if what is also sought is to stimulate the industry, one of the main objectives should be to promote Private Networks in 5G.

Liberalizing private 5G networks

In this area, the most difficult aspect to manage is the model of cooperation between mobile operators and vertical industries, in order to reap the benefits of optimizing the use of network infrastructure and spectrum. As a general rule, for many of the verticals these models tend to be rigid, constricted and very limited. With independent private networks the different vertical sectors of the industry can have more control to customize the networks according to their needs, the deployment costs in localized areas will be lower and also much faster.

Already in the infrastructure domain, innovation is managing to “democratize” cellular connectivity, through open source software and native cloud-based edge computing tightly integrated into COTS hardware. This can give rise to new scenarios of “independence” of mobile operators, where the vertical industry can establish its own and flexible infrastructure without having to depend on limited and high-cost SLAs. In that domain there are already very interesting implementations, such as the platform Aetherof the ONF (Open Networking Foundation).

Likewise, another important step is being taken in the access part with OPEN RAN, which is a disaggregated RAN (Radio Access Network) that is subdivided into several independent systems using open and interoperable protocols and interfaces. Recently, Telefónica, Orange, Deutsche Telekom and Vodafone have signed a MOU for the implementation of OPEN RAN networks in Europe. It is about having a more competitive 5G environment, diversifying providers and having greater flexibility for the industry to innovate and differentiate itself. Policy makers can also play an important role in supporting a new ecosystem of technology providers, startups and integration companies that will be very relevant, also in the development, deployment and autonomy of private 5G networks. Such support could be based on the tens of billions of euros from the European recovery fund to fight the economic consequences of Covid.

Nevertheless, true independence is not only granted by its own infrastructure, but it is the availability of the spectrum that configures a totally autonomous modus operandi. It is at this point where the regulator must innovate to promote new scenarios. Therefore, all actions and initiatives related to the allocation of frequencies are very important. In fact, it is considered a very relevant criterion within the infrastructure and technology factor in the 5G Readiness Index (Europe 5G Readiness Index), in which Spain ranks 15th in the ranking.

Options when regulating the spectrum

There are different spectrum regulation options: spectrum licensed from mobile network operators, spectrum licensed locally, spectrum unlicensed, and shared spectrum. In most cases, spectrum usage rights are granted in full to mobile network operators, who retain usage rights even when there are also lease agreements. But there is a less “oligarchic” option, and that is to make a dedicated spectrum available to verticals. You don’t have to go outside of Europe to find examples. One of them is the one has been implemented in Germany, where local licenses for 5G in the 3700-3800 MHz frequency range have been released. Frequencies are assigned based on demand, giving preference to Industry 4.0 or agricultural and forestry applications. To date, a total of 102 frequency assignment requests have been submitted for 5G local networks, and the Federal Network Agency has issued 97 frequency assignments for these networks. While there are some risks that need to be mitigated, such as avoiding ineffective spectrum use or increasing the complexity of coordinating with mobile network operators to avoid potential harmful interference, some regulatory bodies have considered the potential benefits relevant to provide spectrum licenses to local private networks.

“There is a less” oligarchic “option, which is to make a dedicated spectrum available to verticals”

Inside the agenda Spain Digital 2025 It is proposed to facilitate the deployment of 5G without restrictions, since it is considered a fundamental task for the economic development and digital transformation of the country. It is intended to act on four key axes in the deployment of 5G: transport corridors; business solutions and social services; Population nuclei and innovative ecosystems through a program of aid to R + D + i.

One of the measures is the allocation of priority frequency bands demanded for 5G in 2021 which, within the EU, the Radio Spectrum Policy Group determined as 700 MHz, 3.6 GHz and 26 GHz priority. Tenders for the 700 MHz and 26 GHz bands are still pending and scheduled for the first and second half of 2021, respectively.

The availability of the 700 MHz band is very relevant for some of the Spanish mobile network operators, who are waiting for said spectrum to be made available to launch the Standalone (SA) architecture. All of the advanced 5G use cases that will revolutionize businesses and consumers’ everyday lives will not be possible without the SA technologies of 5G Core (5GC) and New Radio (NR). The ability to add new network functions and introduce them in a very agile way, scaling capacity very quickly and executing software updates in service, will allow you to create and deploy new services in a matter of hours.

Likewise, with the 5G Core, mobile service operators will be able to offer end-to-end service level agreements (SLAs) to enterprise customers. Also with the support of Edge Computing in the 5G Core, it will be possible to interrupt the traffic at the edge and control it dynamically.

The spectrum as a facilitator

No less important is the 26 GHz frequency band that is going to have a very relevant role in industrial applications. The German Federal Network Agency is already, since January 1, with the application process, and it is interesting how said Agency has set the rates for frequencies in the range from 24.25 GHz to 27.5 GHz. will be calculated according to the following formula of:

Tarifa (in euros) = 1000 + B · t · 0.63 · (6a1 + a2)

• 1000 indicates the base amount in euros,

• The B indicates the bandwidth in MHz (min. 50 MHz),

• t is the term of the assignment in years (for example, 15 years),

• a is the area in km² with a differentiation between the settlement and traffic zone (a1) and other zones (a2).

The amount of 1,000 euros was selected in such a way that the business models of start-ups or SMEs are also possible. As an example, an industry that requires a 400 MHz bandwidth for 10 years in an a2 area of ​​5 km² would have a rate of € 12,600

It is therefore necessary to insist that it is necessary to attract new industries and establish contexts that allow the retention and expansion of existing ones, for example, enabling scenarios and conditions very similar to those that exist in other countries, so that those already existing in them be exportable. The management and allocation of the spectrum must not only take into account the income that is desired to be achieved in accordance with State budgets, it can also be a tool to promote innovation and facilitate new industrial developments in our country.. Local use of the spectrum is not a business model in itself, but a business case facilitator. Therefore, the rights, the application procedure and the allocation of spectrum must be designed in such a way that it can be planned economically for all companies.