Last November, the IT suppliers of Finnish enterprise networks gathered in Espoo, to listen to the industry’s hottest WiFi manufacturer, MIST Inc. Undoubtedly, this is one of the visionaries for enterprise network solutions, but I understand the IT reseller’s field of pain. There is already a significant number of equipment manufacturers and partnerships to manage.

The situation resembles a market in the year 2000. The demand for WiFi services was significant. The market was then full of prominent players. We decided to get involved, but with next-generation technology. I ended up in the Aruba Networks partnership, and we abandoned all others. The first EMEA event of this unknown manufacturer took place in Paris. There were only about 30 interested. The rest is history, and the corresponding success story gets searched.

Which one wins the battle for business networks-5G or WiFi6?  This hot issue also attracted discussion at the event. As an independent consultant for both technologies, I have a perspective to discuss it. But first, we need to understand more about enterprise networks.

Access technology is not the solution

Aruba Networks’ actual steak has not been WiFi. It was, of course, an integral part of the solution, but a more critical issue was the new architecture and paradigm of the corporate network. It allowed a global and easy SD-WAN type of implementation without costly and non-agile VRF/VLAN network segmentation hassles, user and machine authentication as part of Active Directory login, dynamic segmentation of applications and users, application detection and automatic prioritization, user protection, e2e encryption from end device-to-data center, centralized cryptographic management, brilliant 2, 4GHz and 5GHz RF spectrum channel management, and roaming. The ’80s and 90’s learned about the implementation of the corporate network architecture were an instant history. 

MIST (Juniper) does the same but takes advantage of the power of advanced cloud technology, microservice architecture, and artificial intelligence in the last ten years. Like Aruba, WiFi is not a steak, although the brilliant and most visible part. Real steak is that this intelligent architecture and technology can be exploited in the future much more widely. The MIST decision to sell the company to Juniper in 2019 was thus logical. It’s a faster way to get technology on the market. 

5G hype vs reality?

The completion of 5G technology and standardization was preceded by market hype; we can compare the 2000 IT bubble. This staggering novelty enabled remote surgery, self-driving cars, smart refrigerators, and cities. For companies, a private 5G slice was created for this upcoming beauty. So far, we have seen only super expensive mobile devices for consumers who cannot find sensible use. 

In November 2019, the  VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd and the Aalto University’s “5G and IoT Test Network” event, the representatives of the Finnish industry expressed praise but also criticism. The key message for the 5G ecosystem was as follows:  “Industry needs to innovate solutions that require 5G new features. If the answer can be handled with the current technology (4G, LoRa, WiFi, BLE, Ethernet) without any particular investment, it is worth doing with them. For industry, 5G is not an end in itself. ” 

Feedback is somehow warranted. 5G allows for higher speed and device density and a slightly smaller transfer delay than 4G networks. For companies, none of these are yet to be a significant issue. The 4G (300Mbps) promised speed has been more than sufficient. IoT (NB-IoT and LTE-M) are also already well supported without volume. A slight improvement in radio network transfer delay does not change anything with existing apps. 

Essential new 5G service for business is probably slicing. Slicing allows the operator to implement a “private” (virtual) 5G network for its client. In a virtual network, the customer can define application prioritization and other network parameters that are different from the general. This is new for the 5G industry, but not for enterprise networks. Logic and thought are the same as a fixed network in MPLS or WiFi SSID, but 20 years later.

5G slice is now marketed as a business network for the future, but is the vision realistic? 

What are 5G Enterprise Network main challenges (TOP 6)

  1. 5G high frequencies pass poorly if at all external wall materials. Building the interior coverage of the property is an expensive investment. Companies are renting remises and seldom willing to play the role of the payer. For business visitors and partners, the network works if they happen to have the same mobile operator subscriptions. The migration of premises and the international environment bring significant challenges. 
  2. The private 5G network is ultimately only a bit pipe in a logically separated virtual network. For the customer, this is comparable to the WiFi solution SSID virtual networks, but in a larger geographic area. The result is still only the network architecture of the ’80s, the single operator dummy network segment. It lacks all the well-established modern corporate network features and security mentioned earlier.
  3. Private 5G network management and maintenance are probably comparable to the MPLS service. In 2019 It was voted the least agile IT solution. The market is at a fast pace with the SD-WAN solution, which, as an overlay and administrative layer, is flexible and secure for the company. SD-WAN technology does not care about the local operator or the access technology but hides it. The return to the past is hardly a business wish list unless a technical solution requires it. 
  4. The implementation of the international enterprise network with a 5G slice is theoretical so far. Agility, price, availability, security, compatibility, and country-specific contractual law are big question marks. 
  5. Terminal equipment and investments – How many copiers, printers, surveillance cameras, TV and video conferencing equipment, industrial automation, or the hospital facility will provide a 5G interface? What is the corresponding business benefit? 
  6. Interior Positioning Technology – BLE is a highly integrated and well-established part of the corporate WiFi solution. It gives less than a meter of location accuracy and works fine. 

Does history reproduce itself? 

The criticism of the Finnish industry at 5G at the event is also relevant in the enterprise network. The theoretical comparison or superiority of individual interface technology for engineers is not a success guarantee. 

Have you heard a story about future stadium implementations that only 5G technology can accomplish? Did you know that the Stadium entertainment solution has done for ten years with WiFi technology? One of the most famous is Levi’s Stadium, with 70 000 seats. The significant advantage is that the solution works for all visitors.

Do you remember when in the late 90 ′s Telco camp believed in ATM network technology like crazy? It was the only theoretically proven solution to run audio and video apps on a corporate network. Despite the proven theory, the Internet world went in the opposite direction. 

Hopefully, we will quickly find a real need and a payer for 5G technology. 

 

Hannu Rokka, Senior Advisor

5Feet Networks Oy