Enterprises across the board have been focusing on expanding and deepening their digital transformation. Kurt Schaubach, CTO, Federated Wireless, discusses the need to move to private 5G to truly leverage the innovations of the new cloud, the edge and the IoT.
If you follow the enterprise technology space, you may have noticed signs of a sea change. As an industry, we’ve been talking about digital transformation for years, but usually in future-focused terms. Suddenly, the pictures painted by vendors and the technology press seem much more concrete. You can thank three converging technology trends: cloud, edge, and Internet of Things (IoT).
With new edge and IoT solutions, forward-looking businesses are connecting and automating operations across factories, farms, and hospitals. They’re running computationally intensive workloads like advanced analytics and machine learning locally and immediately acting on those insights. Just as important, those investing in early edge and IoT initiatives are planting a stake in the ground to transform their business—maybe their whole industry—before the competition beats them to it.
Enterprises in every sector have been tracking this change, and many are now evaluating edge and IoT investments to fuel their own digital transformation. As they do, though, some overlook a crucial part of the story: connectivity. Existing infrastructure (typically, legacy Wi-Fi) can’t provide the necessary performance, security, or control for the genuinely transformative edge and IoT innovations. The early lesson: if you’re investing in digital transformation, upgrading connectivity should be part of that cycle.
The good news is, just as businesses rethink enterprise operations, a complementary revolution is reimagining enterprise connectivity with Private 5G. Those adopting private wireless find it provides an ideal platform for their digital transformation initiatives—and an early competitive edge.
A Foundation for Transformation
Why can’t businesses get the most from digital transformation with legacy infrastructures? Because those infrastructures can’t deliver many of the capabilities – higher performance, lower latency, stronger security – that more innovative applications require.
- Consider a manufacturer seeking to transform its business digitally. They want to automate factories using robotics and autonomous vehicles and continually optimize end-to-end operations via real-time analytics and machine learning. To support this initiative, they’ll need: Ultra-Reliable Low-Latency connectivity to safely control automated equipment.
- Local edge compute to analyze real-time data and act on it.
- Edge storage to handle the massive amounts of data their environment now generates.
- End-to-end security to protect sensitive equipment and keep proprietary data private.
Legacy Wi-Fi, with its inconsistent bandwidth and latency as well as its lack of good options to connect to and secure autonomous equipment, isn’t a viable option here. The manufacturer could buy connectivity from a wireless carrier, but that brings its own issues: higher costs, lack of true privacy, and overall lack of control over the infrastructure.
Now though, there’s an alternative to meet demanding application requirements without Wi-Fi or telco connectivity deficits: Private 5G. This manufacturer could connect factories end to end with the right performance and security using private wireless. They could retain total control of their connectivity and keep all sensitive data on-premises. And they could put in place a cloud-native business infrastructure by design, making it much easier to add new edge and IoT capabilities in the future.
Evaluating Private 5G Options
Once businesses have committed to upgrading connectivity, there’s a natural next question: Where should you start? Carriers, cloud providers, and other vendors now offer a range of solutions under the umbrella term “private wireless.” The first thing to understand is that not all private 5G is created equal. If your goal is flexible, edge-native connectivity that can evolve with your business, your Private 5G solution should meet three core criteria:
- It should run over a shared spectrum: Ideally, private wireless should deliver next-generation performance and security in a way that’s fully self-managed and controlled by the enterprise. But is it really private if you get “Private 5G” from a mobile operator? What you’re actually getting is a network slice over a public network. Your traffic often still gets routed through the operator’s core network, outside your premises. Even worse, you’re now dependent on that operator to make any changes for you. When you invest in new edge and IoT applications to transform your business, those applications become business critical—and so does the infrastructure they run on. You should be able to fine-tune, maintain, and iteratively update that infrastructure as quickly as your business needs change. If you have to submit an order to a carrier every time you want to make a change, you’re not getting that.
- It should be edge-native: As you tap into new edge services, things just work better when your connectivity is built from the ground up for cloud environments—not a legacy solution that’s been virtualized to run on an edge compute platform. When your wireless is truly cloud-native, you get the same scalability, resiliency, and automation as the rest of your business’ cloud footprint. Your wireless infrastructure also now works like other cloud software, enabling DevOps models, continuous updates, and easy integration with the vast developer space writing cloud applications. When you need to scale your platform, modify it, or onboard new edge and IoT capabilities as they emerge, your infrastructure is part of that ecosystem on day one.
- It should be truly 5G: Some emerging wireless alternatives, like Wi-Fi 6, offer 5G-like capabilities. These can provide a high-value, cost-effective solution for many traditional enterprise applications. But for the truly transformative innovations—robotic automation, real-time analytics, digital twins, and others—you’ll need the reliability, security, and ultra-low latency that only real 5G can deliver.
Building for the Future
New cloud, edge, and IoT applications can really transform businesses in powerful ways. But if you want to get the most from new investments in these areas, make sure you’re taking a hard look at your connectivity too.
No one can say what the future will bring, but we can make this prediction with confidence: some businesses will realize the limitations of their connectivity only after they’ve tried to deploy new edge and IoT applications—and have to scramble to make up for lost time. By building digital transformation on shared spectrum private 5G, you can ensure you’re among those creating transformative change in your industry, instead of watching others get there first.