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Unlock the Power of Private Wireless: An Implementation Guide

Private 4G/5G networks are dedicated cellular systems that utilize licensed or unlicensed spectrum to provide enhanced wireless connectivity and coverage tailored to an organization's specific needs.






Unlike public carrier networks, private networks are controlled by the enterprise or entity deploying them, offering numerous advantages:


  • Enhanced capacity and speed - Private networks are designed and optimized specifically for the environment they serve, providing increased bandwidth, lower latency, and consistent high speeds thanks to dedicated spectrum resources. They are not affected by public network congestion.

  • Coverage and control - Organizations can customize the coverage footprint and specify the exact locations that require connectivity. There are also greater controls over network access, settings, upgrades and security.

  • Reliability and resiliency - Mission-critical connectivity can be achieved through built-in redundancies, automated failovers, and other reliability mechanisms unavailable on public carrier networks. Uptime SLAs up to 99.999% are possible.

  • Flexibility - Private networks can utilize a wide range of spectrum bands, cellular technologies like 4G LTE and 5G NR, as well as deployable infrastructure from leading technology vendors. This makes customized deployments feasible.

  • Security - Traffic on private networks stays within the closed environment and does not traverse the public internet, reducing the attack surface. Enterprise-grade authentication, encryption and security policies can be enforced.

  • Support for new applications - Private networks allow organizations to leverage advanced applications like IoT, smart factories, autonomous robotics, AR/VR, that need wireless connectivity with specific speed, latency and reliability requirements.


With capabilities like these, private 4G/5G networks enable organizations across various industries to digitalize their operations, adopt new technologies and gain a competitive edge.


Planning and Preparation


The first step when deploying a private 4G/5G network is proper planning and preparation. This involves determining your coverage needs, selecting the right spectrum and technology, and developing a budget and business case.


Determine Coverage Needs and Users

  • Conduct a site survey to understand the coverage area and capacity requirements. Evaluate building materials, distances, and potential sources of interference.

  • Identify the users and applications for the network. Prioritize mission-critical applications and usage scenarios to determine quality of service needs.

  • Define specific performance requirements like throughput, latency, reliability etc. for supporting business operations.

  • Consider future growth and expansion plans to right-size the network from the start.


Select Spectrum and Technology

  • Choose between 4G LTE and 5G NR based on use cases, availability of spectrum, devices, and overall technology maturity.

  • For 4G LTE, prioritize licensed spectrum like CBRS to ensure interference-free operations. Unlicensed spectrum like CBRS GAA tier can be used to augment capacity.

  • For 5G NR, utilize mmWave spectrum for high bandwidth and low latency services. Sub-6 GHz spectrum provides wider area coverage.

  • Evaluate spectrum availability in your area and estimated costs for licensed spectrum.


Develop Budget and Business Case

  • Estimate capital expenditure based on hardware, software, installation, and licensing costs.

  • Project operational expenditure like energy, maintenance, upgrades and replacement cycles.

  • Perform a cost-benefit analysis comparing to alternatives like carrier-provided macro networks.

  • Highlight benefits like increased operational efficiency, lower latency, higher reliability, and control over network operations.

  • Get stakeholder signoff on costs, timelines and success metrics before proceeding.


Network Infrastructure


The network infrastructure forms the backbone of a private wireless network. Careful planning is required to select the right components to meet your requirements. Some key considerations for the network infrastructure:


Select Core Network Components

For 4G networks, you'll need to deploy an Evolved Packet Core (EPC). The EPC manages authentication, mobility, and QoS policies. For 5G standalone networks, a 5G Core will be required instead. The 5GC introduces capabilities like network slicing and improved QoS.

When selecting an EPC/5GC, pay attention to the supported throughput, scalability, redundancy levels, and interfaces. Choose hardware or virtualized options from reputable vendors.


Choose RAN Architecture

The Radio Access Network (RAN) consists of the base stations and antenna infrastructure. You'll need to decide between distributed, centralized, or hybrid architectures.

In a distributed RAN, the baseband processing occurs at the cell site. This minimizes fronthaul requirements but may lead to stranded capacity.

With a centralized RAN, baseband processing takes place centrally. This allows better coordination between cells but requires high bandwidth fronthaul.

A hybrid model blends both approaches. Centralizing some functions while keeping others distributed provides flexibility.


Select Appropriate Base Stations

Base stations suitable for private networks include femtocells, picocells, and microcells with ranges from 10 meters to 2 kilometers. Ensure the base stations support the required frequencies, bandwidth, and protocols.

Consider the number of sectors, MIMO support, backhaul capacity, and software options. Select reputable OEMs or use Commercial off-the-shelf hardware. Place base stations strategically to maximize coverage and capacity.


Spectrum and Licensing


When planning a private wireless network deployment, one of the key decisions is determining what radio spectrum to use. There are two main options - unlicensed and licensed spectrum.

Unlicensed spectrum bands such as 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz do not require a license and allow multiple users and devices to share the same frequencies. The advantage is that unlicensed spectrum is freely available to use. However, it can suffer from interference and congestion issues due to the uncoordinated sharing.

On the other hand, licensed spectrum bands provide interference-free, dedicated bandwidth for private networks. This ensures optimal performance and reliability. The CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) 3.5 GHz band has emerged as a leading choice for private 4G/5G networks in the United States.

To use CBRS spectrum, there are three tiers of shared access:

  • Incumbent Access - Providers with existing rights to the spectrum like the military.

  • Priority Access Licenses (PALs) - 10-year renewable licenses allocated through auctions. Allows interference protection from lower tiers.

  • General Authorized Access (GAA) - Spectrum shared dynamically by users without a license. No interference protection.

For critical enterprise applications, it is recommended to acquire a PAL license to guarantee quality of service. The CBRS spectrum is managed by a Spectrum Access System (SAS) to coordinate between different tiers of users.

Other common licensed band options for private networks include 600 MHz, 700 MHz, 900 MHz, 1.8 GHz, 1.9 GHz, 2.3 GHz, and 2.5 GHz, depending on geography and availability. The licensed versus unlicensed decision should factor in use cases, quality requirements, cost, and local regulations.


SIM and Device Provisioning


There are two main options for SIM provisioning in a private wireless network:

eSIM

With eSIM (embedded SIM), there is no physical SIM card. Instead, SIM profiles are provisioned over-the-air and remotely managed. This allows devices to be provisioned quickly without having to physically handle SIM cards. Some benefits of eSIM include:

  • Flexibility to add, remove, or swap devices in the network without physical access to the device.

  • Ability to configure multiple SIM profiles on a single device for different networks.

  • Better security as SIM profiles are stored remotely on a server rather than on a physical SIM card.

To enable eSIM, you will need a subscription management platform that can generate and manage SIM profiles. You will also need eSIM-capable devices such as the latest iPhones, iPads, and many modern Android devices. The eSIM profiles can then be activated and provisioned over-the-air into the devices.

Physical SIM

Physical SIM cards need to be procured from your mobile operator and inserted into each device manually. This involves more logistical work to distribute and keep track of SIM cards. However, it may be a simpler option if you have non-eSIM devices.

When provisioning physical SIM cards:

  • Order SIM cards and activate subscriptions with your chosen operator.

  • Insert activated SIMs into each device.

  • Configure APNs, data plans, and other settings.

  • Test connectivity after inserting SIMs.

The main disadvantage of physical SIMs is the manual work required to swap or add new SIMs. But in some cases it may be a simpler option, especially for non-eSIM capable devices.

So in summary, eSIM allows for more flexible and scalable device provisioning while physical SIMs require manual management but work universally. Consider which option makes more sense based on your devices and complexity requirements. Proper SIM provisioning is crucial for getting devices online and working on the private network.


Network Installation


The network installation phase involves configuring the physical hardware and deploying the components at the desired locations. Proper installation is crucial for ensuring maximum performance and coverage across the premises.

When planning the installation, conduct a site survey and create a floor plan documenting the proposed locations for all hardware elements including access points, antennas, switches, routers, and gateways. Considerations include power sources, mounting locations, interference sources, and ease of access for future maintenance.

Hire experienced professionals for installation unless your internal team has expertise in managing enterprise-grade network deployments. Vendor engineers can provide guidance to ensure components are mounted, connected, powered on, configured, and activated correctly. They will have the special equipment and knowledge needed for tasks like running and terminating fiber optic or copper network cabling.

Once installation is complete, conduct acceptance testing to verify signal coverage and network functionality at different testing points representative of the intended user locations. Perform speed tests and evaluate the quality of voice calls and video streams. Make any final adjustments needed to ensure users will have a seamless wireless experience.


Network Security


A private wireless network needs robust security measures in place to protect sensitive data and prevent unauthorized access. Here are key steps to secure a private 4G/5G network:


Implement firewalls, VPNs, and authentication. Configure firewalls to control traffic flowing in and out of the network. Require VPNs for any remote access into the network. Enable multi-factor authentication and create user accounts with appropriate access levels.

Segment the network and create VLANs. Divide the network into segments using VLANs to group devices with similar functions. This provides security by containment and allows controlled access between zones.

Enable encryption and certificates. Use WPA3 encryption for WiFi and require all devices to have security certificates for access. Encrypt wireless data transmissions through methods like IPsec tunneling.

Secure IoT devices. Change default credentials on IoT devices and ensure they connect only to necessary network segments. Implement device enrollment procedures.

Update and patch regularly. Keep network infrastructure and devices updated with the latest firmware and security patches. Set up automatic updates where possible.

Monitor traffic. Use tools like SIEM to monitor network traffic activity and be alerted to anomalies. Perform regular penetration testing to identify vulnerabilities before hackers do.

Control access. Limit network access to authorized personnel and provide access credentials only on a need-to-know basis. Disable unused switch ports.

With the proper security precautions, private wireless networks can transmit sensitive data safely and prevent unwanted access. Monitoring and regular maintenance are key to maintain security over time.



Testing and Optimization


Once the private wireless network is installed, rigorous testing should be conducted to validate performance and uncover any issues before the network goes live. This testing and optimization stage is critical to ensure the network operates smoothly and reliably.

Validate Coverage and Capacity

  • Conduct drive tests throughout the coverage area with professional tools and scanners to validate signal coverage and strength. Look for weak spots or dead zones.

  • Load test the network with multiple devices connected simultaneously to confirm capacity and performance under peak usage.

  • Verify the network provides the expected throughput speeds and low latency required by business applications.

  • Check that handovers between access points and cells happen seamlessly without dropping connections.

  • Confirm outdoor areas have adequate coverage in addition to buildings.

Troubleshoot Issues

  • Debug any problems uncovered during testing. Check configuration settings, hardware connections, interference sources.

  • Perform spectrum analysis to check for competing signals or noise in the frequency band. Adjust channels if needed.

  • Resolve bottlenecks, dead spots, latency spikes or software bugs.

  • Confirm issues are fully resolved before going live. Have engineers on standby.

Tune Network for Optimal Quality

  • Adjust power levels and tilt angles on antennas to shape coverage.

  • Enable advanced features like QoS, traffic shaping, and priority levels to optimize performance.

  • Set user capacity limits and load balance devices across access points.

  • Continuously monitor quality metrics like RSSI, RSRP, SINR, and retransmit rates.

  • Fine tune network parameters to maintain speed, low latency, and reliability.

  • Consider a soft launch to further calibrate the network before full rollout.


Monitoring and Management


The ability to monitor network health and manage devices is crucial for ensuring efficient operations of a private wireless network. Here are some best practices for monitoring and management:

Select Monitoring Solution

  • Choose a monitoring platform that provides insights into key performance indicators (KPIs) like throughput, latency, jitter, packet loss etc.

  • Solutions like Cisco DNA Center, ExtremeCloud IQ, Aruba Central allow easy monitoring and troubleshooting.

  • Opt for platforms that integrate well with your network equipment and provide historical performance data.

Track Network Health KPIs

  • Continuously monitor metrics like interference, traffic load, device connectivity etc.

  • Set thresholds and alerts for critical KPIs to get notified of any performance degradation.

  • Drill down to client devices to check experience and identify problem areas.

  • Regular analysis of trends can help optimize network parameters.

Manage Devices and Users

  • Centralized management platforms make it easy to onboard, configure and update devices.

  • Role based access control enables managing user permissions and visibility.

  • Over-the-air remote management eliminates need to touch devices physically.

  • Mass configuration changes can be rolled out to devices without downtime.

  • Life cycle management automates tasks like firmware upgrades on equipment.


Deploying a private 4G/5G network requires careful planning and preparation. You need to select the right network infrastructure, acquire spectrum and licensing, provision SIMs and devices, install and configure the network, and implement robust security. Proper testing, optimization, monitoring and management is critical for ensuring high performance.

When done right, private 4G/5G networks can provide numerous benefits over WiFi or public cellular networks. You get better coverage and capacity, lower latency, greater reliability and security, and more control. Industries like manufacturing, energy, and healthcare can leverage private 4G/5G to enable IoT, computer vision, robotics, VR, and other latency-sensitive applications.

Looking ahead, private wireless is poised for strong growth. Release 16 and 17 of the 3GPP standards will bring new capabilities like URLLC, IAB, and 5G local area networks. On the spectrum front, the FCC, CBRS Alliance and others are opening up more shared and licensed spectrum for enterprises. More startups are entering this space and driving innovation. As the ecosystem matures, deploying private networks will get faster and easier, allowing more organizations to realize the benefits.

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