Rethink your business internet because 5G has changed the game
For companies exploring what comes next in business internet and networking, the answer isn’t 5G or Wi-Fi. It’s both.
Our editorial transparency tool uses blockchain technology to permanently log all changes made to official releases after publication. However, this post is not an official release and therefore not tracked. Visit our learn more for more information.
For years, businesses have relied on Wi-Fi as a central component of their wireless networks, using it to connect devices across their offices, warehouses and factories. And just as Wi-Fi replaced cords for devices, today there are fixed wireless access systems, such as Verizon 5G Business Internet (where available), that provide internet service to a business location without the need for traditional cables.
But for many medium-size and large businesses, there’s another tool to consider: private 5G, a type of network that brings custom 5G experiences to indoor and outdoor facilities, whether or not these facilities are within a public 5G coverage area.
For technology decision-makers, especially those looking to stay up to date on the latest standards, the question today is how to deploy these solutions so they position businesses for the future—while providing the fast and reliable wireless networks that are essential to success.
Companies considering different business internet and networking solutions don’t have to make an either/or decision. Many will find themselves deploying more than one solution, says Bob O’Donnell, president and chief analyst at TECHnalysis Research, a California-based market research and consulting firm. “They will just be focused on getting the most from different types of applications.”
How private 5G networks can complement Wi-Fi
Earlier this year, O’Donnell’s firm conducted a survey of 400 medium-size and large U.S. companies that either had an existing private cellular network or were looking to add one. More than 70% of those surveyed said 5G would be a complement to their existing Wi-Fi infrastructure. Based on the survey, the most common business applications for private 5G are campuswide networks, the transmission of sensor data for Internet of Things (IoT) applications, and remote asset control.
“If you have a multi-building campus with a lot of people roaming around between buildings, it’s important to have coverage inside and out,” O’Donnell says. That can be a situation where Wi-Fi struggles to provide the consistent coverage that businesses require—but the small cells of a private 5G network could provide ample coverage. “This is why a lot of companies are considering adding private 5G to complement their Wi-Fi, which might not be able to support that widespread use.”
The TECHnalysis Research study also revealed that many companies rely on aging Wi-Fi standards and equipment when it comes to business internet and networking. As these companies consider upgrading to Wi-Fi 6—the latest Wi-Fi standard—it can make sense to also consider a complementary private 5G network. “Certainly, companies can upgrade their Wi-Fi to faster speeds,” O’Donnell says. “But when they’re having to make investments anyway, there is an opportunity to think about using private 5G alongside their Wi-Fi.”
The benefits of combining 5G and Wi-Fi networks
Strong security, faster speeds and broader coverage are three of the main benefits of a private 5G network. With private on-site 5G, businesses can securely integrate and connect massive numbers of devices and handle large amounts of data without sacrificing performance. In fact, O’Donnell says these factors can make private 5G the preferred technology for government agencies, financial services firms and public utilities.
Here is a closer look at three of the main benefits of adding private 5G to an existing Wi-Fi network:
Security. Private 5G networks require a hardware component that provides an added layer of security: a SIM card. These cards authenticate a device on a network, which provides that security layer. This means a business can require that its most critical applications and systems be accessible only over the private 5G network, on devices authenticated via their SIM cards.
Coverage. Consider a large hospital, a multi-acre distribution warehouse or a manufacturing plant. In these facilities, Wi-Fi networks can be stretched to their limits. Yet internet-connected equipment, robots and autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs) are only as dependable as the signal strength. With a high-powered private 5G network that has access points provided via small cells, these components can operate more smoothly both inside facilities and out, where Wi-Fi signals could fail.
Speed. With security-intensive traffic channeled to the 5G network, the organization can benefit from a faster, more efficient Wi-Fi network for office workers.
Preparing for the future of business networks
Any large investment in technology infrastructure brings with it excitement about its long-term impact, along with concern about the risk of disruption. However, as O’Donnell points out, businesses are rarely going to take steps to integrate a 5G private network for its own sake.
“The 5G network is rarely an end unto itself,” he says. “It’s a piece of a bigger puzzle. It’s about the need to find a more efficient way for a particular application to run, or to ensure AGVs can work anywhere in the warehouse.”
In those instances, he says, it especially makes sense for 5G to become a priority addition. “As we found in our study, businesses want 5G to integrate with their existing systems, but they also know—and are excited about—the real-world benefits that 5G can bring,” O’Donnell says. “That’s why many companies are mixing and matching the two technologies to meet their needs and working with partners to provide the right technology for the right environment. Working together, 5G and Wi-Fi can deliver the trifecta of speed, coverage and security that businesses require as they plan for the future.”