Understanding Private 5G LANs in the Enterprise

Wireless connectivity in the enterprise has long been the domain of Wi-Fi technologies, but that paradigm is changing with the onset of 5G. It’s a fundamental shift that has given rise to a market for private 5G LANs.

Of course, the shift from Wi-Fi to 5G is not a zero-sum game. They can certainly exist in the same environments together, offering complementary functionalities. “Both 5G and Wi-Fi 6 […] provide higher speeds, lower latency, and increased capacity over their predecessors,” says Sujatha Gopal, chief architect and consulting partner at Tata Consultancy Services.

The two technologies provide fundamentally the same thing — high-quality Internet access — but come to it differently, so it’s something of an apples-to-oranges comparison.

Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, has lower deployment and maintenance costs, and is ideal for connecting large numbers of devices like PCs and tablets. Secure access requires SSIDs, which requires end users to manually authenticate at least once. (Open networks, of course, require no gatekeeping but are inherently insecure.)

5G (and its predecessor, LTE) is a service mobile carriers provide that requires a subscription of some kind for access. It offers a wider range for connectivity and is ideal for connecting swaths of mobile devices, from smartphones to smart devices to connected cars. Authentication requires less human intervention than Wi-Fi; 5G relies upon on-device SIMs instead of SSIDs, and although private 5G LANs offer granular access management as a feature, end users don’t have to do anything to connect.

“Ultimately, using 5G or Wi-Fi 6 depends on the specific use case,” says Gopal.

Enterprises can get the most out of 5G by using the technology to create a private LAN. Ostensibly, this combines the simplicity of a typical wireless LAN with the benefits of 5G technology.

5G LANs operate on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The FCC created new rules in 2015 that allowed for a three-tiered spectrum access and authorization system. The changes paved the way for the CBRS to allow companies to create private 5G LANs on the third (free) tier. The CBRS prevents similar networks from interfering with one…