NTT, a technology services arm related to mobile operator NTT Docomo, has launched a private LTE/5G Network-as-a-Service platform for enterprise that comes pre-integrated with network and software partners.
Shahid Ahmed, who recently joined NTT as EVP of New Ventures and Innovation, told FierceWireless that industrial and manufacturing industries are seeing 5G as a key layer in both cloud and digital shifts in their business.
“It’s become more than just a nice buzz, we’re beginning to see this [private 5G] as an on ramp to cloud,” making private 5G a key-enabler for those enterprise changes it’s seeing from a SASE and cloud perspective, he said.
NTT’s Private 5G platform (P5G) goes beyond connectivity, he noted, running cloud-native architecture and providing a full stack meant to be tailored and customized to give CIOs visibility with self-service management capabilities on one platform.
It’s targeted at global enterprises that want a single 5G private wireless network platform to deploy across multiple regions or countries, with one partner that eliminates points of friction. Specifically, Ahmed said, they’re targeting industrial, manufacturing, automotive, healthcare, and retail industries, in the U.S. and in Europe, particularly U.K. and Germany.
The platform can be delivered via the cloud, on-premises, or at the edge.
Ahmed emphasized that NTT is not trying to introduce a telco-centric solution. By keeping in mind the needs of cloud and digital transformations facing multinational enterprises, he said it’s a key difference from what CSPs, telcos or other OEMs may be offering in the private network space. Verizon has pegged the private wireless as a $7 billion to $8 billion market opportunity by 2025.
Celona, a Silicon Valley private LTE/5G networking company that’s also been involved in CBRS and edge, is helping to power the cloud-native architecture, bringing in capabilities on the connectivity layer. NTT is currently lead investor in Celona, which has worked to simplify the operational side of private LTE to a model that’s more similar to IT consumption, according to Ahmed, something that works well with NTT’s ambition. Integration of NTT solutions with Celona hardware and software architecture enables capabilities like building a CIO self-service portal.
“Where an IT organization could have full control over their private network,” Ahmed said. “But not just control, visibility, they can do policy management from a security standpoint. If you have 12 companies spread across 12 different countries, you want one single console to manage all of those implementations and deployments” instead of 12 different policies associated with each.
And he said NTT is bringing its whole set of companies, including operator NTT Docomo, NTT Data, and NTT Ltd., to the table to add capabilities for the single private 5G offering.
Using CBRS and licensed spectrum
In the U.S., NTT will tap spectrum in the shared 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band for private networks, using the general authorized access (GAA) portion.
“That’s really spurring a lot of excitement with a number of our industrial clients, whether it’s automotive or for that matter a healthcare network system that has a number of hospitals,” Ahmed said.
In countries without dedicated spectrum for enterprises, NTT will fill the gap with 10-megahertz of Band 53 mid-band spectrum, which it currently has access to in over 20 countries. He noted that spectrum is certified by 3GPP and supported by Qualcomm’s X65 Snapdragon chipset on the device ecosystem side.
Other layers of service the NTT platform offers is 24/7 remote monitoring for global operations centers, managed network services for enterprises that don’t want to handle it on their own. NTT already manages networks for many customers, and Ahmed said private 5G would be an extension of those LAN or existing networks.
The private 5G platform has eSIM and SIM capabilities by integrating NTT’s France-based Transatel MVNO asset, with roaming contracts in over 190 countries – and will be integrated in the Celona solution set.
“So right out of the gate we’ll be able to provide public and private roaming,” Ahmed said, which is important for warehouses, logistics and other industries that want to keep track of assets and maintain connectivity outdoors as well as in.
The platform also brings a suite of digital app development and system integration capabilities, as well as workflows that integrate the private network into back office ERP systems.
Ahmed said pricing is based on a tiered subscription-based model, like software-as-a-service that IT organizations are already use to, which he thinks will drive adoption – rather than a by number of devices or access points.
Device-as-a-service is up next, working with Qualcomm and Intel to build a portfolio of devices that NTT will manage. For example, biometric or video analytics cameras on a factory floor, AGVs, AR/VR or XR, Push-to-Talk (PTT) devices, as well as gateways.
Network slicing doesn’t fit the bill
The main impetus for customers wanting to implement private 5G is all about security, and what it brings to the table for mission critical infrastructure as shift to cloud and digitize operations, according to Ahmed.
Carriers and network vendors are also looking at and introducing private 5G offering, while network slicing has become another hot 5G topic of how carriers can serve enterprise and monetize their network investments.
However, Ahmed said there’s confusion in the market, with customers expressing concern over mixed messages on network slicing and private networks.
He said network slicing from a public macro network with a MEC that sits on-prem isn’t a real private network as it doesn’t meet the standards for enterprise, where the biggest draw for private networks is again, security.
“What they [enterprises] want is an airtight network” that is based on the principles of zero-trust, Ahmed said. “And they want full control over it, so they are not looking for a public network."