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Understanding Public vs Private 5G Networks

     5G technology operates on high bands of communication, providing up to 1,000x the download/upload speed of 4G networks and even reducing latency down to 1 ms. However, this reduced lag in data transfer has a trade-off for shorter geographic reach and less ability to penetrate building structures. This requires more physical infrastructure points to keep 5G connection consistent and reliable. Instead of large cell towers, smaller and more frequent towers need to be installed to provide greater coverage.

     Because 5G technology has limited geographic reach and will require many small towers, there enters a possibility of private companies establishing their own micro 5G ecosystems. Where in the past, telecommunication companies built large cell towers to connect huge swaths of the population to their 3G and 4G networks, 5G requires more frequent physical infrastructure points to provide consistent and uninterrupted coverage as people move throughout their day.

     Due to the physical limitations of 5G, the rollout will start with connecting large cities and eventually move outward. However, manufacturing or warehousing facilities often have extremely large footprints and are typically located in more rural regions where land is readily available. These factors might push some private companies to explore private 5G network infrastructure instead of waiting for 5G to eventually reach their facilities, if it reaches them at all.

     So how will rural areas be serviced by 5G networks, when many struggle with access to existing networks? Currently, satellite internet helps connect many rural communities around the globe with basic internet connection. While a typical satellite connection also has trouble with latency, more lower orbit satellite companies are starting to recognize the potential to provide service in this way.

     Starlink, a company founded by Elon Musk, is already attempting to increase connectivity and decrease latency to bridge the rural infrastructure divide. These lower orbit satellites will provide the connection to the cloud necessary for advanced manufacturing facilities in rural communities to deploy edge computing that transfers data in real-time to the cloud for further processing, discussed in the previous article (link.) When talking about latency, it is important to compare that the latency of 5G is about 5ms compared to advertised 15 Mbps of current satellite internet options (need to fact check/convert to same measurements.) Innovation in this space will help accelerate the adoption of IIoT solutions.

     However, connecting machinery in a facility to any network increases the importance of cybersecurity. The cyber-physical connection hit headlines most recently when hackers took control of a water treatment facility in FL earlier this year and threatened the Colonial pipeline last week. Companies might want to seek assurance that their network is more secure from outside threats that could cause real physical harm to their employees and risk the safety of their product. This will be another driving factor for larger companies to establish their own private 5G networks at the facility level for better control of security and easier monitoring.

     As these technologies continue to advance, companies will need to assess the capabilities of public 5G infrastructure and calculate whether a private network will provide better access and security.