Vodafone adds 5G to mobile private networks

  • May 10, 2023
  • Steve Rogerson

Vodafone has launched 5G standalone connectivity over its UK standardised mobile private network (MPN) to offer low latency, high availability connectivity for businesses.

The MPN now includes 5G standalone connectivity and can be paired with a multi-access edge compute (MEC) offering.

MPNs can act as a catalyst for innovation in industries such as manufacturing, transport, logistics, energy and healthcare. Thanks to a dedicated local MPN, data can be kept on premise or on device edge allowing for more customisable and private connectivity.

An MPN is a dedicated business network that allows businesses to interconnect people and things using 4G and or 5G technology. While enabling new applications, MPNs can also support companies’ existing business-critical services with a local network on their premises, providing secure and reliable connectivity. It serves as an alternative to wifi, but differs from a public mobile network by providing private reserved coverage that is subject to agreed performance and local, protected data flow.

Vodafone is the first telecoms operator in the UK to standardise a 5G standalone MPN product.

MPNs allow businesses and organisations to customise network performance and characteristics to suit their own connectivity needs. This has potential to accelerate digitisation and act as a catalyst for economic growth.

By installing dedicated equipment on-site, the user can tailor the connectivity experience as only its own devices and applications can connect to the network. MPNs remove the risk of network congestion, while network functionality can be customised to use case requirements and security is enhanced as data never need to leave the user premises.

MPNs are set up to enable use cases such as asset tracking, drone detection, M2M connectivity, condition monitoring, and augmented and virtual reality. An MPN allows the creation of services with specialist requirements that would not be possible on the public network.

“Mobile private networks are an opportunity for our business customers to accelerate innovation at an unprecedented scale,” said Nick Gliddon, business director for Vodafone in the UK. “By installing a private and customisable network, Vodafone can support innovation by cultivating new use cases in an environment which brings the best opportunity. That could be delivering on low-latency requirements, enhanced security or enabling massive IoT models. Whatever the use case, Vodafone can deliver a tailored experience to act as a catalyst for innovation.”

Vodafone has already deployed several MPNs across the UK, including the Horiba Mira’s test track in Warwickshire. This is a secure 5G non-standalone-enabled MPN that covers two autonomous vehicle testing tracks, with five outdoor masts and on-site MEC.

Ford’s E:Prime factory in Essex has a 5G network to power autonomous operations and ensure real-time analysis by using AI software to inspect visually automated production lines for electronic vehicle motors and batteries.

Innovation hubs in Aberdeen and Kilmarnock are two 5G MPN sites act as testbeds to develop use cases for segments that include energy and smart cities. The Smart Sound Connect in Plymouth is the worlds’ first marine-focused 5G testbed, powered by a 5G non-standalone MPN, delivering use cases such as driverless boats, connected buoys, clean propulsion, smart ports and shipping, and environmental monitoring.

Centrica’s natural gas plant in Yorkshire is a 4G MPN to enable real-time indoor and outdoor monitoring of the plant and its equipment, improving maintenance and safety. Workers will be alerted to any gas emissions, for example, and receive early warnings of any equipment on the point of failure.

Vodafone’s MPN offering includes indoor and outdoor radio access network (RAN) infrastructure for private connectivity. On-site network core infrastructure or access to Vodafone’s core network includes the ability to integrate and use Vodafone’s MEC.

If required, MPNs can also be connected to Vodafone’s wider public network.

A management platform can visualise data across the network and connected applications, optimise and reconfigure network operations and parameters, provision new services, and automate functions, applications and operations.

Customer sites are managed by the same cyber security team that protects Vodafone’s wider network operations.

Ongoing managed services, including round-the-clock helpdesk, data insight and analysis, real-time monitoring and early warning intelligence, as well upgrades and maintenance advice and support. There is support to develop use cases and integrate enabling technologies, such as cloud services and IoT offerings.

To develop the services and applications that would make use of private connectivity, Vodafone has curated several partner ecosystems. These include software developers and specialists who work alongside Vodafone to co-create industry-specific offerings.

MPNs are separate from the mobile network that connect everyday smartphones. This removes the risk of network congestion due to too many devices connecting to the network at the same time. MPNs are private, so the user can control what devices and applications connect to the network.

With connectivity and core or MEC technology on-site, data never have to leave the user premises to be processed or stored. This is more secure. MPNs can be configured to support specialist use cases and more advanced connectivity requirements. Some elements that can be configured include thresholds on upload and download speeds, as well as areas such as latency.

MEC technology allows for data to be processed without having to be transferred to a far-off data centre. With specialist servers installed in either Vodafone or customer locations, rather than in traditional data centres, the distance data have to travel to be processed is reduced. This then reduces the amount of time it takes for an application that relies on those processed data to react to a command. A lower round-trip time (RTT) leads to lower latency. By reducing the latency of applications, new use cases can function safely and as designed. One example is an autonomous vehicle.

With traditional network infrastructure, it could take between 50 and 140 milliseconds for the vehicle to react to a change in the environment. This is because a sensor would detect a change in the external environment such as a person crossing the street, send this information to be processed in a data centre, which could be hundreds of kilometres away, reacting only when the data have been processed and sent back to the vehicle.

By using specialist MEC servers installed on the edge of the network, the RTT is significantly reduced, allowing the vehicle to react faster. This could be as fast as sub-ten milliseconds in an optimal dedicated MEC environment, using MPN 5G standalone connectivity on the user’s premises. This vastly improves the performance and safety of the autonomous vehicle.

MEC is a complementary technology to 5G standalone as it enables real-time responsiveness of applications on a smartphone, or other internet-connected devices.

Separately, both MEC and 5G standalone offer improved latency, but together the experience is better. With both MEC and 5G standalone, users could expect applications to react faster than the human brain is capable of processing information. This capability would be valuable for any autonomous operations or processes, such as self-driving cars or user authentication to prevent fraud.