Departure Gate 2023 - All Aboard the Non-Public Network
There are thousands of blogs and pages out there describing Non-Public Networks and their many use cases. Mika Skarp, Cumucore Senior Product Manager, has written dozens of such articles himself over the last decade – the last 2 years probably contributing the lion’s share. Where at one time our motivation might have been to sell a concept, say, Network Slicing, our primary driver these days is to record and share the learnings we’ve drawn from deploying NPNs in their many flavors. Our first 5G StandAlone (SA) implementation was completed in the spring of 2021 in Oulu Finland, and since then we have been on a literal world tour, delivering private mobile networks large and small, earthbound and space bourne alike.
Being this close to the NPN frontier, the fact that it is a hype topic at the moment prompts mixed feelings. Certainly we benefit from the attention the field is now getting, but sometimes the fanfare seems to get in the way of the focus and discipline it requires. As an area in constant flux, sharing first hand experiences, down to troubleshooting a particular problem encountered can be a life saver for a project. One of the most exciting aspects of NPNs is precisely their diversity of purpose and with it the wellspring of insights they provide through this rapid phase of evolution. Furthering the ancient Greek concept of “The University”, the proximity of diverse expertise solving very different problems creates opportunities to share information more effectively to arrive at better insights and solutions more quickly. At its best, this has been true of the telecom industry as well, but with one rather glaring and consistent failing. That is the reluctance or seeming inability of its experts to make their wisdom accessible to lay audiences – preaching to the choir as it were. Whether to do with the vast complexity of Mobile Networks through the past 4 and half generations, or the reality that most professionals, all the way up to IT Management, have had no real need to know any of this stuff – that is, until now.
This effectively taxis us to the tarmac (the point of this article), and why the title Departure Gate, 2023.
“Attention passengers…2023 is calling for clear skies, smooth sailing and strong tailwinds for those interested in embarking on the destination of deploying their own Non-Public Network”
But in order to get there, some basic vessel-keeping is in order.
We assume, as readers of these pages, that you are involved in some capacity in the movement of information around your organization, be it data, voice and video communications, machine automation, what have you. Perhaps you run a smart factory, a software development campus or a far flung factory farm set to modernize your automation. Maybe you operate a hospital network with aging IT infrastructure, or a more nomadic business, in say construction or temporary outdoor events. Whatever the case, we assume that you operate or have even deployed various LAN, WAN and WiFi accessible networks, and through those experiences have come to begin looking at mobile alternatives.
If any of these assumptions is true or partly true, we leave the most important assumption to the end, and that is that you are or will be, over the coming quarters or year, in the process of developing a business case for implementing a Non Public Network for your organization. This bit of profiling has no more nefarious purpose but to raise the tent pole over you, the correct audience, for a project of singular importance for us over the coming year – one that promises to be a big one for NPNs.
Who are you calling Dummy?
IT Infrastructure and management professionals
For the past several years, many colleagues and clients have asked us if we had or knew of a simple, easy-to-follow guide to Non Public Networks mechanics, ownership and operation. Afterall, not everyone has spent decades plugging telecom boxes together, but, as we have seen, the growing popularity and demand for NPNs has opened up the possibility, nay, reality of the layperson owning and operating their very own mobile network. Still, there is a learning curve, and so back to the demand for a simple guide. Upon researching precisely this, we discovered that while modern telecom capabilities like Software Defined Networks (SDN) and Network Function Virtualization (NFV) have their simplified books, there as of yet none for Non Public Networks.
And so it was that over the holidays we began the process of developing a plan for, you guessed it, an NPN for Dummies book. Note, this has yet to be commissioned by Wiley, and they’d quite likely disqualify us for the following transparency around our devious plan. Each month for the coming 8 or 10 we’ll be publishing a new Part (a chapter in xDF parlance) toward a complete NPN for Dummies slated for the fall of 2023. Our series approach has many benefits, not least of which mapping to an already busy schedule of NPN deployments. This field journal and guide course also allows us to provide a continuous view of this constantly evolving world over what promises to be a very big year.
Additionally, and to a better “how to” book, this delivery schedule opens up the opportunity to engage directly with you, chapter-by-chapter, part by part to field any questions you may have and include developed answers in the final book. How to ensure you never miss a nugget of this page turner? Simply subscribe here for each monthly installment delivered by email, and receive your copy when it comes out in the fall.
And so, with that vessel keeping out of the way we commence a proper our introduction into the why and how of NPN for Dummies.
Where to Start?
Even if you have never spent time pouring over 3GPP or IEEE standards and architectures, and would more likely guess that OSS stands for the Office of Strategic Services (WWII era predecessor to the CIA), than Operation Support System, the 5G era represents that kind of technological leap that suddenly brings everyone to the party. In this new universe, proprietary hardware and software is replaced by open standards, API first, cloud native architecture and universal 4G/5G device support. Not only does this mean our public telecom networks will become increasingly agile, but provides the same infinitely expandable, scalable, software-defined service-oriented networks to all of non-telco civilians.
In short, you CAN try this at home
BUT, guidance is key, a plan essential and a disciplined approach the one that will yield the best outcome at the lowest cost. As such, and as you start into this guide, you’ll want to have (perhaps you already do) a clearly documented picture of your current network as a baseline from which to build a new one. This will not only provide key inputs on information flows, roles and responsibilities as well as required technologies and services to your eventual NPN plan, it will also help you understand what your current costs are and a good idea of what they might be if you continued along the current path.
BENCHMARKING YOUR CURRENT NETWORK (SIDE BAR)
This benchmarking cost exercise should cover all line items: cloud, servers, cabling, WiFi APs etc. It should include not only your various software licenses (mapped to HR growth plans) but also installation cost of cables, replacing WiFi APs and all physical work elements. We are willing to bet that the results of the analysis will be eye opening to you and your organization in terms of current and future costs of legacy systems.
Not only is the exercise intrinsically informative, it will help inform subsequent steps in assessing the viability of an NPN replacement and creating the business case for it.
Going to the next level, let’s imagine that in this role you are part of or central to defining the direction of your company. You are looking to speed up processes, further automation to increase productivity, backfill against a labor shortage, or build out for an enlarged physical footprint, maybe to serve logistics and/or a growing workforce. It’s a cliche question, but a valid one. Where do you want to be in five years? No facility will build information infrastructure just for the fun of it. Information networks have very specific targets to support the business now and in the future. We don’t pretend to know what yours are but we will guess that you do or at least, are thinking alot about it.
Serving these principles, our approach to the will be at once theoretical and practical, providing throughout conceptual tools alongside on-the-ground advice on how to implement them or run test suggestions against the particularities of your organization.
In the first part, following this introduction, we’ll provide an overview of the ins and outs, components and categories of the mobile network true of the public and private varieties alike. We’ll introduce the notorious Three Planes of the modern mobile network and work our way into the center of how they will come into play in your architecture and the technologies, devices and services categories your organization may require.
Next we’ll unpack the steps required to build your road map, defining the most important development topics, priorities and future needs for your organization. What these development points will be in practice would remain to be seen. Here we will provide a check list of standard as well as more edge case developmental questions. For example, could increasing automation with guided vehicles or drones improve productivity and the bottom line? Will improving data security help keep better step with compliance? What about data capacity? Could improving communication flows between employees by expanding coverage reduce communication costs? Could using more cameras and less cables reduce physical security and reduce long term costs? In more specific implementations, like smart warehouses and logistics, could adding positioning capabilities reduce picking time and logistics bottlenecks? How much production and planning time could be saved through the introduction of manufacturing process simulation.
In an easy to follow, step-by-step process each Part or Chapter will bring you through the factors that must be considered with real world experiences that will help bring you through those steps. For example, with NPNs, many cite the elephant in the rooms the need to work through local regulators to ensure available spectrum for your new network. With years of experience under our belts working through precisely these, at times tricky applications, you will be benefit from that expertise with streamlined tutorials and spectrum application building tools.
At the end of the series you will have the benefit of our decades of experience developing NPNs with all of the basic elements in hand to develop a rock solid master plan and business case.
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NPN FOR DUMMIES
To provide IT Infrastructure and management professionals a well-grounded understanding of the what, why, how and how much of owning and operating their own NPN, to inform and support their development and delivery of an effective business case for such a project to their organization.