For decades, traditional PMR networks have allowed entities such as the armed forces and emergency services and large industrial sites such as airports to benefit from dedicated group communication systems such as radios/walkie-talkies. The technical and functional limitations of traditional private networks are catching up with them, as they are becoming obsolete and more expensive to maintain. They are expected to be shut down by 2035.
5G, the Ideal Candidate for Modern MPNs
As Denis de Drouâs, Director of the Private Radio Networks program at Orange Business Services, explains: “Our customers are relying on traditional solutions and diverse and aging technology — texting, industrial WiFi, TETRA, DMR, the list goes on. These technologies are inconsistent in terms of security and their performance no longer meets current expectations and use habits. The development of Industry 4.0 in particular, with its applications around augmented technicians, computer vision, predictive maintenance, etc., requires more advanced network capabilities. To replace them, the whole ecosystem has agreed to move toward 5G standards, which respond to these needs.”
The ecosystem is unanimously moving toward 5G to replace traditional private network solutions and respond to new needs.
5G technologies meet the new requirements of private networks by offering the performance to support new uses, a very high level of resilience and SLA (Service Level Agreement) capability, security and privacy, and customer control and customization of the solution.
Organizing the Migration
This transition from outmoded networks toward the latest mobile network standards has already started with the LTE standard, and will be fully exploited with 5G. At Orange Business Services, we have established a dialog with customers to study their specific projects, needs and uses so that we can identify the best MPN model for their use cases and expected return on investment. There are three types of 4G/5G offerings: the standalone MPN, a fully dedicated and independent private network with a custom operating model and engineering; the virtual MPN, a virtual private network hosted on the carrier network with optimal coverage, guaranteed minimum bandwidth and service availability commitments; and the hybrid MPN, a hybrid private network hosted on the carrier network (for cost and performance reasons), and supported by the national carrier network’s shared equipment and the on-site equipment dedicated to the customer so that data can be maintained locally.
MPNs allow us to make use of obsolete networks by upgrading them to a single, multi-service, multi-terminal and scalable network, and to anticipate future use cases.
For example, customers using traditional PMR solutions will be able to reproduce these types of communications via a smartphone app while accessing enhanced functionalities such as the ability to share files, photos, real-time videos, etc.
Co-innovation on 5G Private Networks
At the same time, the innovation ecosystem has joined forces to shape the future of 5G MPN solutions. “Experiments and projects with co-innovation customers are already underway,” explains Mélanie Arnac, private networks project manager at Orange Innovation. We have also developed partnerships with the providers Ericsson and Nokia to evaluate future solutions, define suitable architecture models, analyze potential performance, etc., using specific network equipment and application servers. Although standalone MPNs are already available in 5G, mainly on the experimental frequencies that ARCEP (‘Autorité de Régulation des Communications Électroniques et des Postes’ — France’s electronic communications, postal and print media distribution regulatory authority) assigns to verticals (in the 3.8–4.0 GHz band), virtual and hybrid operated industrial solutions will arrive by 2023 with the rollout of standalone 5G carrier networks.”
As well as significantly improving performance and services, the MPNs’ transition to 5G should be beneficial in terms of accessibility. By combining the service components—networks and terminals—with consumer technologies, economies of scale are expected, which would lead to competitive prices. The use of standardized technologies will also ensure that solutions will continue to evolve and be updated and maintained.