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Wi-Fi and Existing Network Functions Critical to Private Enterprise 5G Deployments

Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance
Tiago Rodrigues, CEO, Wireless Broadband Alliance

New WBA paper highlights the needs and use cases for Wi-Fi 6 and private 5G (P5G) as a fundamental part of an organization’s converged, access-agnostic connectivity portfolio.

The Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA) today announced the publication of a detailed report on the importance of 5G and Wi-Fi convergence in the deployment of seamless, access-agnostic connectivity for enterprise organizations. The report, titled Private 5G and Wi-Fi Convergence: Key Use Cases and Requirements, outlines the critical role new and existing Wi-Fi infrastructure has yet to play in maximizing the potential of 5G, allowing organizations to move to fully converged platforms that offer broad, frictionless coverage and effortless user onboarding.

The report, led by WBA members, Cisco and HPE Aruba Networking, explains that Wi-Fi is already the incumbent network in the majority of enterprises, and that the near-term benefits afforded by 5G depend on an organization’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. 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 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.

In the US in 2017, Wi-Fi data accounted for 36% of business internet traffic. By the end of 2023, that figure is expected to rise to more than 50%, reflecting the growing need for reliable Wi-Fi connectivity as businesses grow their number of devices. 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 the key drivers for Wi-Fi adoption in enterprise networks.

The report highlights how Wi-Fi (with Wi-Fi 6, Wi-Fi 6E and 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.  Many regulators are actively considering enabling private use of the cellular spectrum. In the US, there is 150 MHz of allocated spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band (3550-3700 MHz) that has been licensed to facilitate adoption by private networks. Similar approaches to private spectrum allocations are also occurring in the EU and other regions, which are paving the way for 5G adoption. For this 5G adoption to be successful, the paper explains, convergence with Wi-Fi 6E and other enterprise elements for realizing an access-agnostic service layer with improved user experience will be something enterprises cannot afford to overlook.

Wi-Fi 6E provides a host of advanced, enterprise-grade capabilities on the 6GHz spectrum, such as deterministic quality of service (QoS) and multi-gigabit throughput. These already perfectly align with several 5G service profiles designed specifically for enterprise applications, including factory automation, smart metering, mining, venue hosting, fault management, and surveillance.

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. The four models are as follows:

On-premises core network and application services – Data sovereignty, site resiliency, and application latency requirements are ensured by keeping all traffic on-prem. Access to conventional enterprise cloud-based applications is enabled, subject to normal limitations around resiliency and latency.

On-Premises user plane and application services – The paper outlines several potentially good reasons to move the control plane to the cloud, such as the need for control plane aggregation in a multi-site 5G core network deployment. All other 5G elements and the application services are on-premises, except the 5G control plane elements.

Cloud-based core network and application services – User plane traffic from 5G devices will always have to enter the cloud. In such deployment models, it may be possible to move the 5G core network and user plane elements to the cloud where the applications services are located.

The hybrid model – There are some application services in the cloud, and some are on-prem. To support such a model, there can be two different Data Network Names (DNN’s), one for supporting applications that are on-premises and another for supporting applications in the cloud.

Tiago Rodrigues, CEO of the Wireless Broadband Alliance, 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..”

This paper is just 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 modeling and onto deployment guidelines and trial cases. Phase two will include: – Architecture Considerations; Extending Wi-Fi Fast Transition Domain to include Private 5G; Extending Singular Authentication across Private 5G and Wi-Fi; Indication of Identical Service on the other RAT; IP Address Preservation & Seamless Mobility; Optimized UE Paging in a Converged Wi-Fi and Private 5G Networks; QoS Convergence; Latency Analysis & Comparison across Wi-Fi and Private 5G, and Cryptographically Generated Device Identifiers.              

Stuart Strickland, Wireless CTO, HPE Aruba Networking, said: “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 phase one paper, Private 5G and Wi-Fi Convergence – Key Use Cases and Requirements, is available here as a free public download.

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