Article | 25 January 2022

Understanding Public and Private LTE/5G

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Written by
Elvin Lim, Global Head of Product and Applications Singapore

A container ship in the South China sea. An ore mine in the Australian outback. An energy plant legally distanced from population centres. Not the places you would expect to get good connectivity (if any, at all). Nevertheless, and for some years already, these are some of the places that have benefitted the most from the evolution of cellular-based networks, like LTE and 5G.

Because LTE/5G, the flavour of 5G in play at Blue Wireless (LTE stands for "Long Term Evolution"), answers a much broader set of use cases than urban telephony. It's even poised to supplant well-known WiFi and wired networks as the primary method for connecting large numbers of touchpoints across a business: people, devices, sensors, and machines making up in the Internet of Things, in thousands of applications all along the supply chain.

In this context, often comes the question between private and public networks and the belief that private is a superior alternative. But is it, though? Why not look at both.

Private LTE/5G: custom-built for sprawling sites

From mineral mines to container ports, hundreds of private LTE/5G implementations are providing enterprise connectivity across large and complex sites, without wires, today. They're connecting sensors to alarms, machines to managers, and humans to the applications and data they need to do their jobs.

But what does private LTE mean?

A private LTE/5G network is a custom chunk of infrastructure, designed specifically to provide coverage across one site fixed in area. It's not part of the public 5G network; your phone won't even recognise it. While it uses similar equipment, it operates in its own context, pinched off from any public network. Many even use a different part of the electromagnetic spectrum (and the rights to use that spectrum are often the result of long and expensive negotiations with authorities).

This makes private LTE/5G networks reliable and flexible, with uncontended bandwidth and high customisability. It also makes them expensive. It's estimated that only 2% of the total expenditure of cellular infrastructure is attributed to private LTE/5G networks today [1] - all of them enterprise-scale. And while adoption will continue to accelerate, the investment required simply doesn't make private LTE/5G viable for smaller sites.

Public LTE/5G: using existing infrastructure for innovation and profit

By contrast, public LTE/5G uses the same 5G infrastructure already in place across much of the world, at the same radio frequencies already licensed by mobile operators such as national telcos. There's no need to negotiate spectrum with governments, no need to set up your own pinched-off network with all its associated cost structures. With a public LTE/5G implementation, you're taking advantage of what's already there, which means lower costs and faster rollout. Of course, there's a twist.

You might wonder how public 5G could possibly work for a site far from population centres, still less for offshore assets like a ship at sea. Doesn't 5G range max out around 500m from a cell tower? Yes, it does—but it doesn't have to. And that's where Blue Wireless comes in. High-gain antennas, like those offered by our partners at Poynting, give your distant site an "on-ramp" to those public cellular networks—even if there's no direct line-of-sight. At distances much greater than 500m. LTE/5G routers complete this picture, funnelling incoming and outgoing wireless data between nodes on your local network.

Essentially, you've extended the public 5G network to where you need it… even if "where you need it" is a cargo vessel 50 nautical away from shore.

Of course, security is part of the solution—and to many people, it's the most vital part. SD-WAN, an evolution of the Virtual Private Network, sets up a private network in the cloud using the public network as its underlay. Meaning your remote site (or ship) is connected to public infrastructure, with all its resources like messaging and web access, but your applications and data stay private to you.

One last advantage: this setup, of course, lets you interconnect multiple sites around the world with a single SD-WAN, unlike the campus-specific nature of private LTE/5G.

Get the most out of public networks with Blue Wireless

That's the sweet spot of public LTE/5G: extending what's already there for the benefit of your business. The table below summarises the differences between private and public LTE/5G: as you can see, the advantages of "going public" are many and varied, way beyond cost.

Public 5GPrivate 5G
Network UptimeHigh resilience on multiple operatorsSingle private network
Scalability / Profitability3.3-3.8 GHz range, primary 5G band used globallyLocal private spectrum
Deployment CostMore affordable. Leverage on existing 5G infrastructureHigh investment.
Must build or loan 5G infrastructure
Lead timeLow, just purchase 5G routers, and SIM cardsHigh, setup 5G network from scratch
Data securityEncrypted data passed through operators' network Data is circulated within your own private network
RegulatoryLicensed by local mobile operators Must purchase spectrum licenses from authorities

And by leveraging our technology partners, Blue Wireless can provide LTE/5G connectivity solutions to your organisation today, even if you're starting from zero with no 5G investments at all. Why not talk to one of our experts and learn more?

Talk to

Elvin Lim, Global Head of Product and Applications

Let's explore the opportunities of wireless connectivity for your business. Contact us to get your wireless journey started.

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