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As the roll-out of private 5G infrastructures gains further momentum from the rapid pace of 2022, a study from global wireless ecosystem consortium the Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) has outlined the critical role new and existing Wi-Fi infrastructure has yet to play in maximising the potential of 5G, and in allowing businesses to move to fully converged platforms that offer broad, “frictionless” coverage and what is described as “effortless” user onboarding.
The report, Private 5G and Wi-Fi convergence: Key use cases and requirements, with lead authors WBA members Cisco and HPE Aruba Networking, emphasised how Wi-Fi is already the incumbent network in the majority of enterprises, and that the near-term benefits afforded by 5G depend on an organisation’s ability to integrate it with new and existing Wi-Fi capabilities, eventually moving to a fully converged platform that offers enhanced and admin-free user roaming.
Moreover, WBA’s study noted there is already mature deployed infrastructure in enterprise around identity management, authentication, and policy and management, and insertion of private 5G into this environment requires reusing this information, rather than using a parallel infrastructure.
The WBA believes the evolution of Wi-Fi to Wi-Fi 6E is set to be a milestone moment for the industry. It will offer deterministic capabilities, increased capacity – both from the number of users able to connect, as well as performance – and also offer faster speeds and decreased latency, making it a critical component of the expanding IoT landscape.
The report highlights how the need for P5G in enterprise is growing due to the arrival of new IoT use cases. Mobility, reliability, determinism, ultra-low-latency and security are cited as the key drivers for Wi-Fi adoption in enterprise networks, and it argues how Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E and in future Wi-Fi 7 will continue to play a “huge” role in enterprise connectivity, creating new opportunities for businesses, from augmented reality (AR) in education, to new mission-critical applications such as chemical leak detection or water level and flood management.
For 5G adoption to be successful, the paper stresses how convergence with Wi-Fi 6E and other enterprise elements for realising an access-agnostic service layer with improved user experience will be something enterprises cannot afford to overlook.
The paper goes on to outline four possible deployment models for bringing 5G into enterprise networks, as well as the key considerations for choosing each one, such as the nature of the application, latency in the core and RAN interfaces, and the location and manageability of services. These models comprise: on-premises core network and application services; on-premises user plane and application services; cloud-based core network and application services; and the hybrid model.
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Commenting on the findings of the research, Tiago Rodrigues, Wireless Broadband Alliance CEO, said: “Enterprise network architectures are highly complex and have been evolved and refined over a long period of time to support a variety of access technologies, including Wi-Fi and Ethernet. Private 5G can quickly and cost-effectively leverage this foundation as one of a suite of access technologies that enterprises can use to address their requirements.”
Stuart Strickland, wireless chief technology officer at HPE Aruba Networking, added: “We are delighted to see an industry consensus emerge around the convergence and integration of enterprise Wi-Fi and Private 5G. By focusing specifically on enterprise network requirements, this report looks beyond both the hype and sectarian squabbles of rival technologies to identify practical solutions to critical business problems.”
The research paper is the first phase of a multi-step project designed to provide enterprises with a workable blueprint for Wi-Fi and private 5G adoption and convergence. Phase two, which will be actioned in Q3 2023, will move beyond modelling and onto deployment guidelines and trial cases.