Comparing private wireless, Wi-Fi and network slicing: Special Report

Most agree that Wi-Fi and private wireless will co-exist in enterprises. (Getty Images)

FierceWireless is hosting a free, virtual Private Wireless Summit next week, and we’re expecting a lively discussion on Tuesday, comparing private wireless, Wi-Fi and network slicing. Recon Analytics Founder Roger Entner will be moderating the panel.

Currently, private wireless networks can do a lot of the same things as Wi-Fi 6, the newest generation of Wi-Fi, while network slicing is still a bit in the future.

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Most experts agree that in the near term private 5G networks and Wi-Fi will co-exist and complement each other.

Anand Shah, director of technology with Verizon, said 5G will be a better choice for emerging technologies such as time-sensitive networks and V2X communications. The potential for these use cases is exponentially greater with 5G, which can handle such things as instantaneous fault detection on an assembly line or computer-vision on cameras. He said, “If you want to go from wired to wireless, 5G would be the way to go.”

But most agree that there will still be a place for Wi-Fi in enterprises, and the two technologies will need to co-exist harmoniously.

Shah said some work needs to be done “to identify at which points the two technologies will meet.” Today, provisioning is different for Wi-Fi, which uses access points and SSID, compared to private 5G, which uses antennas and is SIM based. “You need points in the network where provisioning happens on the same node or work to put both technologies in the same radio or same box,” he said.

Michael Zeto, SVP of global strategy and emerging businesses at Boingo, said, “I don’t think Wi-Fi networks are going to get ripped out. Enterprises are very comfortable with Wi-Fi. I think we’ll see Wi-Fi 6 still being used, but cellular used more often.”

In terms of spectrum for private wireless, enterprises can use Citizen Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) with either a priority access license (PAL) or general authorized access (GAA), or they might choose to use mmWave spectrum from a carrier.

Geographical limitations and handoffs

Private wireless networks can cover a small footprint such as a single building, or they can be quite large, covering a multi-building area.

A private network is very LAN-focused, said Shah.

One reason organizations are interested in private wireless networks is because, well, they’re private. Data stays on premise, and security can be controlled.

According to the GSMA, a mobile private network is where network infrastructure is used exclusively by devices authorized by the end-user organization, and there is no concern about the impact of public users. Coverage can be delivered precisely where needed whether to outdoor locations such as ports or mines or indoor areas such as manufacturing production lines or warehouses.

But the reality is, employees are going to want to continue to do work when they leave the organization’s facilities.

“That is why it’s very crucial for enterprises to partner with an MNO that has nationwide coverage and spectrum,” said Shah. “There are 50-plus companies selling private networks. Those solutions will be CBRS-based and only work on your premise. But Verizon can ensure seamless handoffs and session continuity when going in and out of a private network. We’re able to do that because we have licensed spectrum deployed nationwide."

Network slicing

Private wireless networks use a dedicated core and radio access network (RAN), and they may be desirable for industries that want nothing to do with the macro network.

But in the future, organizations may choose to purchase a network slice from a carrier. Software will be able provide a dedicated, virtual slice of the macro network, from the core, to the RAN, to the edge and through the transport.

“The flexibility afforded by network slicing will allow wireless operators to more efficiently meet the needs of their enterprise customers, particularly those customers concerned about the potential costs or burdens of ‘do-it-yourself’ or outsourced private networks,” wrote Recon Analytics analyst Roger Entner in a recent blog. “Alternatively, enterprises may choose to deploy a private wireless network to meet their needs. This would require a specific plan to utilize spectrum they obtain or lease from another entity along with a private network managed by an operator, network supplier or viable third party.”

Some of the promises of network slicing include possible cost savings derived from the shared use of physical infrastructure and the convenience of having an operator manage the network.

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But there are questions about the technology. How many slices will a given carrier have the capacity to offer? Will network slicing raise cries about net neutrality? Can the carriers guarantee that the slices on their macro networks are completely isolated for security purposes?

Of network slicing, Zeto said, “We work so closely with the carriers, we’re certainly in those conversations.” But he added, “Wi-Fi’s been around, and we know what it can do. Network slicing will be coming down the pike. I do think, based on the buzz, that private networks will be a large business for us and provide a lot of value to enterprise clients in certain use cases.”