Brendan O’Reilly (BAI Communication’s Group Chief Technology Officer) recently spoke with Regius Professor Rahim Tafazolli, the Founder and Director of the 5G Innovation Centre (5GIC) and the recently launched 6GIC.

They discussed what can be expected for private networks between now and the launch of 6G (expected to be 2030) as well as the role that neutral host players like BAI Communications have to play. The key areas covered were:

  • How 5G is revolutionising both consumer and commercial communication as the technology powering private networks; and
  • How these private networks, which enable connectivity for specific use cases, are a foundation pillar for smart communities and IoT-enabled Industry 4.0.

Watch the full conversation here.

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Five key themes surfaced during the conversation:

1. Reliable networks are a priority for society

The operations of organisations can be restricted by the limited capability of their network technology. As technology and the connectivity that supports it evolves, this will become a societal issue if public service organisations like transit authorities, hospitals, and local government still rely on older mobile technologies.

But this challenge is not necessarily just technology based. Often, it’s how the technology is (or is not) applied.

Private networks have been around for several years, whether that be a Wi-Fi network in an office or a private 4G network in environments like factories and warehouses.

Until recently, technology has not been able to match the increasing demands for greater security, reliability, and lower latency. These challenges are now being addressed by 5G (and more so by the future introduction of 6G), which could achieve advanced use case examples like adding real-time supply chain tracking to seaports or the delivering mission-critical services across extensive healthcare systems.

2. Business-to-business opportunities for private networks are expanding beyond telecommunications

With the launch of 4G, some organisations, mostly in the telecommunications sector, have developed practical use cases for private networks. 5G delivers additional levels of connectivity and allows organisations from every sector, not just telecommunications, to extend and expand their services as they leverage what the new technology offers.

1G to 4G technologies have mostly focused on voice and video data transfer for person-to-person communication. With 5G, it’s not just about connecting people. Now, since the advent of the Industry 4.0, we are connecting machines and devices that streamline processes and how organisations operate, increasing focus on business-to-business and device-to-device interactions.

5G connectivity layered with advanced technologies such as IoT, data analytics, and AI is going to be one of the greatest enablers for public and private enterprise we’ve seen in decades, possibly ever, and will also contribute significantly to smart city evolution. Evolving technology presents an unmissable opportunity for organisations to gain efficiencies, improve security, provide better safeguards for health and safety, and deliver a much better customer experience.

Mobile network operators, as well as public and private enterprises, will need to develop and adopt new business models to meet the needs of this rapidly changing and constantly evolving communications landscape.

3. Today’s technologies will still have a role to play in the future.

As new solutions emerge, different combinations of access technologies will be implemented and the technology that will dominate future deployments will be determined by the necessary and desired outcomes that the enterprise wants or needs to achieve.

For example, when a project requires static location access, Wi-Fi may still be the most practical option for providing connectivity. But for other situations – such as those that require low latency, high reliability, network resilience and top security – 5G or 6G will be the best fit.

That said, while some applications may be achievable with Wi-Fi and 4G in the short term, organisations need to future-proof their networks, and 5G and 6G provide much more scope for evolution and growth from the outset.

As well as being able to grow the business, it’s important to build in the flexibility to switch providers and partners as needs change or evolve, especially in the enterprise space. So, neutral networks may be a better choice for long term agility and ability to implement the right technology, rather than being restricted to only what a specific provider has to offer.

4. Neutral hosts can speed up the adoption of private networks.

As advanced technology becomes available, neutral hosts provide a more efficient, cost effective and environmentally friendly approach to updating infrastructure than individual operators installing and running their own network.

This approach benefits both business and consumer users in two main ways:

  • Cost: neutral hosts tick the boxes for minimising both capital cost and operational cost, and sharing these costs is an excellent strategy.
  • Flexibility: large organisations and smaller companies need different solutions. Neutral hosts provide greater freedom and flexibility to customise the network for a specific sector, customer, or use case.

5. The future is very exciting

5G’s distinguishing factor from earlier generations is its low latency, which is opening a whole range of new applications and the biggest leap from 4G is that video has become the de facto media for communication.

Looking to the future, 6G provides a range of exciting applications for networks. While communications technologies have historically been about transmitting just two of the human senses, hearing and seeing, 6G will enable another human sense – touch. Ambient information and time synchronisation are two features of 6G that will enable an additional layer of interaction between the physical and virtual world.

For example, when you ‘visit’ your doctor in the future, they may appear in your home via virtual reality and interact across the full range of human senses. They could touch your forehead, hold your hand, and feel your temperature, as well as observing cuts or abrasions. A complete range of more natural interactions will be possible through the combination of lower latency, higher reliability, and time synchronisation.

Private networks can shape the future for public and private enterprises

Connectivity underpins almost all functions of an enterprise, no matter to which vertical or industry sector they belong. Transforming the promises of Industry 4.0 into operational reality requires a deliberate shift to prioritise 5G connectivity and access to digital solutions that complement this great technology. Furthermore, the COVID-19 pandemic has heightened the importance of pervasive connectivity for industry as much as it has for individuals, especially for mission-critical sectors where public safety is at risk.

As businesses adjust operating models to account for their new operating environment and the economic fallout of COVID-19. They are addressing existing networking challenges and creating opportunities to revolutionise their operations.

As the 5G roll-out continues and more enterprises capitalise on the next wave of cellular technology, private wireless networks are gaining traction as the preferred infrastructure to meet the increased demand for robust connectivity systems.

About Professor Rahim Tafazolli

Professor Tafazolli is a Regius Professor of Electronic Engineering, Professor of Mobile and Satellite Communications, Founder and Director of 5GIC, 6GIC and Institute for Communication Systems at the University of Surrey. He has over 30 years of experience in digital communications research and teaching. He has authored and co-authored over 1,000 research publications and is regularly invited to deliver keynote talks and distinguished lectures to international conferences and workshops.