By Willem Wentzel | Head of Wireless at NEC XON
5G’s high capacity make it technically viable for the peak demands of demanding business applications
5G for cellular networks has seen a lot of interest in Africa, particularly now as the Open RAN model gains traction. Uptake of private 5G, however, has been relatively limited to fewer, more highly scaled and complex business cases. Now that’s changing because of some simple yet interesting developments. One of the major changes that has now occurred to improve 5G as a feasible solution to enterprise requirements is the sharply reduced cost, thereby creating compelling use cases.
Open RAN was formed by a group of global technology giants, including NEC, who created an open standard for 5G and other related technologies to integrate and work together. The result is that users can have a diversified supplier ecosystem, which was never possible before. That delivers numerous benefits, such as lower costs, exponentially more potential to innovate, flexibility to design and tailor the network to the business case, agility, and scalability, among others.
Price, spectrum limitations overcome by Open RAN 5G
As opposed to Open RAN 5G, proprietary 5G wasn’t cost-effective for any but the most demanding networks, typical carrier environments. Even so, limited spectrum availability has made deployment challenging. Proprietary technology also locks customers into proprietary stacks with price tags that suit the supplier. Now that’s all changed.
Better availability of spectrum and access to cost-effective technologies have created viable business cases for a much larger swathe of South African customers. Medium to large businesses, particularly those with branch environments, have a strong returns-based case for deploying 5G in Open RAN models.
Government’s movement around spectrum release is particularly promising. Not least because it helps carriers explore 5G cellular deployments, which invigorates markets. It also motivates bring your own 5G device (BYOD), early adoption of which will predominate among enterprise workers. Dynamic spectrum allocation and the frequency modulation capabilities of the emerging Wi-Fi technologies also create an exceptionally optimistic landscape.
Nonetheless, the cost-effectiveness of private 5G based on the Open RAN standard offers to reduce telecommunication costs through what’s called intra-calling. It’s when you make a cellular call that only traverses the private company network, never switching to the cellular service provider network, and therefore never incurring cellular costs. If you have two branches, each in separate cities, with your own network linking the two, this is how you will make calls in the future. The same principle applies to all devices that communicate across service provider networks. You can ship a high quality, high volume, high throughput signal across your own 5G network, more cost-effectively when you use Open RAN-based solutions.
While the first and most obvious benefit is the cost of calls, the second benefit is perhaps more compelling. Using 5G for your mobile communications is highly secure, much more secure than switching out the public service provider networks and much more secure than current networking solutions. No device is allowed to connect to a 5G network if it is not already registered on the network. That cuts out man-in-middle hackers, a lot of malware, and a great deal of corporate espionage.
5G’s high speeds, high volumes, and high throughput make this technically viable for the peak demands of voice, video and even more demanding applications.
How to identify the right 5G Open RAN partner for African conditions
One of the biggest hurdles most companies will encounter is finding the right partner to deploy, run and maintain the network with them. 5G is complex and integration challenges due to low skills availability are significant. The main path to 5G adoption, particularly in developing markets such as South Africa, where we have some specific challenges, not least being the skills shortage, is to work with systems integrators, particularly those with proven track records in the carrier space. They’re accustomed to carrier-grade deployments and have the right expertise for smooth deployments.
Four of the top pros and cons are:
5G in Open RAN deployments is changing the enterprise, corporate and public networking game. It ushers in a plethora of benefits for compelling business cases and opportunities to leverage advantage.