Early adopters embrace private 5G

Two arenas and a manufacturing center are deploying private 5G networks for tech gains that include low latency, high reliability, and support for massive numbers of connected devices.

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The appeal of private 5G is driving companies to explore ways to improve the performance, scalability and flexibility of their mobile networks.

Enterprise deployment of the technology has been slow due to the pandemic and an immature device ecosystem, but that's not stopping early adopters. To help get started, they're turning to service providers, which can include telcos, private wireless vendors, hardware vendors, systems integrators, and major cloud players.

Here's a look at how three private-5G deployments were rolled out.

Sports arena amps up visitor experience with private 5G 

The Wells Fargo Center recently rolled out 5G, using Comcast Business to help set up the network. The Philadelphia sports arena is home to the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, and the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League.

The deployment in the Wells Fargo Center uses a mix of 600 MHz and CBRS spectrum, according to Brian Epstein, head of strategic wireless solutions at Comcast Business. The CBRS component included a combination of CBRS Priority Access Licenses and CBRS General Authorized Access unlicensed spectrum.

"The private 5G network was ideally positioned to deploy small, less-intrusive cameras when and wherever we needed them," says Phil Laws, the general manager at the Wells Fargo Center. Previously, the arena was using wired connections.

The cameras are used to focus on Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, as well as Lou Nolan, the voice of the Flyers for 50 years.

"The 5G camera deployed at his position this season brought his famous ‘power play’ call directly onto the video board in an organic way that we had never tried before," says Laws. "This deployment was seamless without needing cabling or really any preparation at all. Very point and shoot."

The network was also tested for use streaming data to LED screens located on the sidewalk outside the arena. "Traditionally, displays on the exterior requiring regular updates have been fed using wired networks that fix them into a position forever," he says. "With this type of deployment, the displays are free to roam where power can reach them. This will allow us to make adjustments to their use and position depending on the event need."

The Wells Fargo Arena deployment also uses Nokia's Digital Automation Cloud platform, an end-to-end private wireless networking and edge computing platform that includes radio, baseband stations, and software.

The 5G network is able to support other bandwidth-intensive and low-latency applications, says Comcast's Epstein. "For example, with video streaming, mobile phones are used to shoot HD video that is distributed to screens on the scoreboard," he says.

Specialist builds private 5G testbed

MxD set up a private 5G network at its manufacturing innovation facility in Chicago with help from wireless-infrastructure company Betacom, which recently added 5G-as-a-service to its suite of offerings. Betacom’s service can include network design and installation, as well as ongoing security and operations monitoring and management.

MxD is the nation’s Digital Manufacturing Institute and the National Center for Cybersecurity in Manufacturing, which partners with the Department of Defense and about 300 companies, including Boeing, Rolls Royce, Siemens, and John Deere.

"We started looking at 5G three years ago," says MxD technical fellow Tony Del Sesto. The first project was using AT&T to set up a 5-mm wave 5G system. Then, a month ago they went live with a new private 5G network that uses midband 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum, according to Del Sesto,

The goal is to test both approaches to 5G, and to allow manufacturing companies to come in and experiment with them, which is important because different 5G frequencies can perform differently on factory floors depending on local physical factors. "It's hard for manufacturers to do tests in their own facilities," says Del Sesto. "Especially when you're running a business and can't interrupt your operations."

Using millimeter wave means having to work with a telco, he says, but that doesn't mean that data has to leave the facility. "Even though it's on a public network, it can circulate locally in the factory."

Millimeter waves can offer extremely high speeds and bandwidth. "Shorter wavelengths don't go through walls very far," says Del Sesto. That means that facilities using those shorter wavelengths need more antennas to provide the same coverage.

On the other hand, with CBRS, a mid-band spectrum, a manufacturer doesn't have to work with a telco, he says, and can operate the system itself. "I'm not going to say that one system is better or worse," he says.

With either option, a factory can replace Ethernet cables with wireless connections, making it easier to move factory lines around and allowing for self-driving vehicles.

The biggest problem for enterprises today, Del Sesto says, is that the tablets and sensors and other IoT devices factories use aren't yet ready for 5G. That will come, he says. Until then, factories might want to experiment with 5G gateways that gather data from IoT devices via wired connections but backhaul to data centers via 5G.

"By putting the sensors on a gateway, you usually save a bunch of installation money," he says. "And there's the flexibility. If you need to move a factory line, it's a lot easier to move the gateway than to reroute all the Ethernet cable."

Australian Football League taps system integrator

Marvel Stadium, an arena owned by the Australian Football League, chose to go with systems integrator Accenture for its private 5G network. Accenture partnered with Google Cloud and Australian telecom Telstra for the deployment, which is set to go live in in March of 2023.

The private 5G network will allow fans to navigate the stadium using smartphones. They’ll also be able to hold up their phone cameras to receive information about the environment or to access content such as player statistics and promotional communications from the football league. Other applications include augmented reality (AR) multi-player games and pre-game AR shows

"Technology such as 5G, AR and cloud have a wealth of potential to create new and innovative experiences," says Behren Schulz, Accenture's director of design and innovation in Australia and New Zealand.

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