5G for mission-critical government services
By Nathan McGregor, senior vice president Asia Pacific, Cradlepoint
Friday, 01 September, 2023
5G network slices increase the value and performance of mobile broadband, IoT, mission-critical communication, and more. Network slices are virtual networks that operate on top of shared 5G infrastructure. Available only on 5G networks with a standalone (SA) core,1 each virtual network or “slice” is optimised for a defined organisational purpose by tailoring throughput, latency, speed, reliability, security, and more from end to end.
What does this mean for Australian government departments? Ericsson and BT predict that network slicing solutions will drive a 35% increase in value2 for mission-critical IoT, thanks to a range of enhancements that include increased network flexibility and enhanced security for critical traffic.
Instead of best-effort, one-size-fits-all wireless services, government departments across various fields will be able to match their network needs and spending to desired or required service levels, improving use cases such as:
- Tele-operated driving and real-time situational awareness
- Remote medical emergency assessments and surgeries
- Remote video and real-time smart surveillance
- Remote drone control
- Virtual power grid monitoring and control
- Remote monitoring and control of machines and robots
- Ad-hoc or temporary mass events
- Augmented on-site experiences
Because 5G network slices are completely isolated, no slice can interfere with the traffic in another, making the user experience and security of each network slice the same as if it were operating on a physically separate network.
What other options do government departments have for secure, mission-critical connectivity?
Similar to a scaled-down version of a public cellular network, private 5G and LTE networks are dedicated cellular networks built to allow organisations to use licensed, shared, or unlicensed wireless spectrum to transmit data to wireless endpoints including smartphones, laptops, tablets, and routers. In big, sweeping areas where Wi-Fi isn’t realistic and public cellular is either not available or too expensive for the sheer amount of data coming and going, private 5G and LTE combine the control of Wi-Fi with the benefits of cellular — like increased coverage, capacity, and security. Private network solutions from Cradlepoint and Ericsson offer the most flexibility, simplicity, and security to support any enterprise IT/OT organisation’s mission critical applications and devices.
While there are some limitations in Australia due to spectrum availability, private cellular networks are coming and will offer government departments secure, reliable, cost-effective connectivity compared to public cellular and Wi-Fi solutions. Smart cities and municipalities for example, pose an interesting challenge and opportunity for Private 5G and LTE use cases. They are large, complex areas requiring reliable connectivity across an array of modern and legacy assets. The key challenges smart cities face include surveillance cameras, smart lighting, intelligent traffic control, IoT technologies, public Wi-Fi access and EV charging stations. Private 5G networks are projected to overcome these difficulties to unlock the potential of IoT and become a driving force for the smart city and future investments.
Are government departments using 5G today?
Different regions around the world are at different stages of 5G maturity. While places like the US have the spectrum availability that enables private cellular, Australia is ahead when it comes to carriers offering network slicing. In the US, the Department of Defense has invested in growing the use of 5G, most recently through initiatives such as a 5G Challenge 3 and even within the last few years with its 5G to Future-G initiative.4 More specifically, the DoD has shown interest in how private 5G, and private cellular in general, can meet military needs. In fact, the DoD has recently been known as the organisation that spends the most on purchases related to private 5G.5
While Australian organisations wait for spectrum to become available and private cellular connectivity to become a viable option, governments can begin to plan their adoption of 5G SA, which offers significantly improved performance over 4G LTE. This makes it ideal for applications that require real-time communication and countless other opportunities for large organisations eager to capitalise on cellular networking.
One of the most significant advantages of 5G standalone networks lies in their ultra-low latency. With latency reduced to milliseconds, real-time applications such as remote surgery, autonomous vehicles, and augmented reality (AR) have become viable and highly responsive. Ultra-low latency ensures virtually zero lag time in critical situations to enhance safety and reliability.
SA networks operate on dedicated 5G spectrum bands, which reduces interference and congestion, making them more reliable and less prone to data outages. This reliability is especially crucial for critical applications such as emergency services or safety cameras in public spaces.
Compared to its predecessors, 5G SA brings a wealth of security to the table. The technology boasts advanced encryption and authentication mechanisms, safeguarding sensitive data from potential cyber threats. Moreover — with features like end-to-end encryption and network slicing — 5G standalone networks are ideal for government departments that must protect sensitive data, such as citizen welfare or healthcare services. With robust security measures and dependable connections, 5G SA ensures a solid foundation for various sectors, including the public sector, to thrive, but it comes with its own set of challenges.
How 5G SA supports network slicing
SD-WAN enables traffic steering, where a software-defined router steers different sources of traffic to specific WAN links based on priority, use case, and the cloud-managed policies put into place by the IT team. The ultra-low latency of 5G networks and general improvements in broadband quality and capacity make cellular-optimised SD-WAN traffic steering highly valuable in government networks that may require secure links for classified or critical applications.
5G network slicing is a network architecture that enables virtualised networks to operate on the same physical network infrastructure. The basic idea of network slicing is to “slice” the original architecture into multiple logical and independent networks. These sliced networks can then be configured to effectively meet various application needs and service requirements.
Each virtual slice aligns with the service categories of 5G — including eMBB, URLLC, and mMTC — and can also be customised to support public safety or other unique enterprise needs.
Looking ahead: controlling connectivity
One key benefit that comes with both network slicing and cellular networks is the control they give to the organisations that use them. With network slicing, IT departments can “slice” the original architecture into multiple logical and independent networks. These sliced networks can then be configured to effectively meet various application needs and service requirements.
In the case of private networks, operators have complete say in network traffic and network access. However, as the saying goes, ‘with more power comes more responsibility.’ Oftentimes, managing and establishing that private network comes with complexities. In some organisations, this could present somewhat of a hurdle, especially in departments where IT expertise and resources are limited.
This is why organisations need to find a solution that makes both curating and maintaining 5G SA networks — and in the near future, private networks — as simple as possible. With the right 5G solution, setting up a network could take minutes, but would not compromise on the control, flexibility and security that will be necessary to streamline operations in government organisations.
1. Standalone 5G vs. Non-Standalone 5G, RCR Wireless, 7 Sep 2021
2. Ericsson Executive Guide: Scalable Network Opportunities
3. DOD and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration Launch 2023 5G Challenge for Open RAN with an Eye Toward Future Base Modernization, US Department of Defense, 2 Feb 2023
4. DOD Establishes 5G and Future Generation Wireless Cross-Functional Team, US Department of Defense, 9 Mar 2022
5. DoD is the largest private 5G network deployer, Fierce Wireless, 6 Oct 2021
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