Hybrid 5G or Private 5G: What’s Right for Your Business?

As the fifth generation of cellular network technology, 5G has tremendous potential as a transformative technology: it can enhance connectivity, drive digital transformation, and revolutionize industries. Its ultra-high speed, low latency, and massive device connectivity capabilities can enable a wide range of applications and services, making it a game-changing technology for unlocking new possibilities and accelerating digital innovation.

Subsets of the broader 5G technology, hybrid 5G and private 5G networks, use the same underlying technology as public 5G but differ in terms of deployment, control, and use cases. They are particularly relevant for industries and applications that require support for data-intensive applications, control over network performance, high-performance mobility, and data privacy protection. Understanding hybrid 5G and private 5G—their architecture, spectrum usage, and use cases—can help businesses make informed investment decisions regarding their networking strategies.

Private 5G and Hybrid 5G: What are They?

A private 5G network is a dedicated cellular network that is deployed, operated, and owned by a specific group, company, or government agency, providing restricted access and using licensed, unlicensed, or shared wireless spectrum. Private 5G networks offer several advantages, including high-performance mobility and support for data-intensive applications, even in areas without public 5G coverage. They are particularly beneficial for entities that require a secure, reliable, and customizable network environment, such as hospitals, manufacturing plants, and military facilities.

On the other hand, a hybrid 5G network combines both public and private infrastructure to create a flexible and scalable network, allowing organizations to leverage the broad coverage, capacity, and cost efficiencies of public networks while also benefiting from the enhanced security and control of private networks. Useful for organizations with a diverse set of use cases requiring seamless operation across private and public domains, hybrid 5G is reshaping industries and enhancing experiences in healthcare, Industry 4.0 initiatives, music festivals, port operations, and stadium connectivity.

Both private and hybrid 5G networks offer security, privacy, and control over network traffic for entities that do not want to share the public network due to security and privacy concerns or other limitations.

The Architecture of Private 5G and Hybrid 5G

More customized and complex, the architecture of a private 5G network depends on a number of factors, including network design and infrastructure, integration with existing systems, spectrum licensing, device diversity, vendor and supply chain connectivity, management and maintenance, security protocols, and the availability of expertise.

On the other hand, the architecture of a hybrid 5G network involves a combination of public and private infrastructure, creating a flexible and scalable network incorporating both edge (on-premises) and centralized (off-premises) components. In most cases, the public network service provider offers a fully deployed and managed solution, eliminating much of the complexity associated with private networks. In addition, operators are expanding into hybrid 5G/cloud and multicloud environments to take advantage of new and faster ways to deliver 5G services.

Both private 5G and hybrid 5G networks are made up of various components—including small cells forming the access edge, a radio access network (RAN) providing coverage for user equipment, the 5G core network managing network traffic, virtual network slices customized for different bandwidth and latency requirements, physical SIMs or eSIMs, network security protocols, and spectrum—working together to create a secure, high-performance, and customizable network environment supporting various use cases and applications in different industries. The choice of components and their configuration depends on the specific needs and resources of the enterprise deploying the hybrid 5G or private 5G network.

Spectrum and Frequency

One of the key considerations when choosing a 5G network is spectrum. Varying from one country to another, the use of different spectrum types affects the performance of hybrid 5G and private 5G networks in terms of coverage, bandwidth, and speed. The four main types of spectrum used in these networks are public, private, shared, and unlicensed. Each spectrum type has its own characteristics and implications for network performance:

  • Public spectrum: Leased from mobile network operators, public spectrum provides wider coverage but may have lower capacity and higher latency due to shared usage.
  • Private spectrum: Dedicated to a specific enterprise, private spectrum ensures the lowest latency and necessary bandwidth, offering better control over network performance.
  • Shared spectrum: Also known as industrial spectrum, shared spectrum allows organizations to operate private 5G networks using “lightly licensed” but shared spectrum (e.g., CBRS in the US). This can lower the barriers to deployment but may also result in potential interference and reduced performance due to shared usage.
  • Unlicensed spectrum: Nonexclusive and free to use, unlicensed spectrum bands (such as 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz) are subject to the rules of use established by the regulatory body. While they offer cost savings, unlicensed spectrum may suffer from interference and reduced performance due to shared usage.

Furthermore, spectrum is divided into different frequency bands, each with a defined upper and lower frequency limit. Different frequency bands (low-band, mid-band, and high-band) are allocated for various applications to provide varying balances of coverage, capacity, and speed:

  • Low-band frequencies: These frequencies are below 1 GHz and can support longer distances with speeds up to 100 Mbps. They are also known as the “coverage layer” due to their ability to cover large areas.
  • Mid-band frequencies: These frequencies range from 1 GHz to 6 GHz and are ideal for densely populated areas where a balance between coverage and capacity is needed. Mid-band frequencies can support medium throughput speeds up to 1 Gbps.
  • High-band frequencies: Also known as millimeter-wave (mmWave) frequencies, these are all frequencies above 24 GHz. They can support high data rates up to 10 Gbps, but their reach is limited, making them useful in urban areas and busy venues.

In general, lower frequency bands provide wider coverage but lower capacity, while higher frequency bands offer higher capacity and speed but smaller coverage radius, as shown in Figure 1.

Figure 1. 5G Spectrum

The choice of spectrum depends on the specific requirements and use cases of the enterprise deploying the hybrid 5G or private 5G network. By using the appropriate spectrum type, businesses can optimize their network performance based on their environment and range of transmission.

Hybrid 5G and Private 5G Purchase Considerations

Hybrid 5G and private 5G networks share many similarities, as they both leverage the same underlying 5G technology. However, they differ in terms of their deployment and control, network slicing capabilities, and use cases, which can significantly impact their flexibility, performance, and security.

  • Deployment and control: Private 5G networks are operated privately by a group, company, or government agency, providing a more secure wireless experience and protection from busy times. This puts more safety and control in the hands of the customer. On the other hand, hybrid 5G networks combine both public and private infrastructure to create a flexible and scalable network. This allows organizations to enjoy enhanced security without the size and scope of an investment entering this space with a private network.
  • Network slicing: While both private 5G and hybrid 5G networks utilize network slicing, the implementation and use of this feature can vary. In private 5G, the network is typically self-contained and has its own spectrum, providing a higher level of isolation and security. In contrast, a network slice in a hybrid 5G network is taken from a provider’s public 5G network, which can result in a lower cost of ownership and is faster and easier to scale.
  • Security and prioritization: Private 5G networks offer a higher level of security and can give different people or groups different levels of priority, which is particularly beneficial for entities who do not want to share the public network due to security or privacy concerns or any other limitations. Hybrid 5G networks, while also offering enhanced security, are a mix of private and public networks, which means they may not offer the same level of prioritization as private networks.
  • Use cases: Private 5G networks are often used in company offices, manufacturing plants, hospitals, colleges, military facilities, and more, where specific capabilities beyond those offered by Wi-Fi and other network technologies are needed. Hybrid 5G networks, due to their combination of public and private infrastructure, can be an ideal way to share infrastructure or extend services to more users, such as in campus settings where security is a priority but devices still require public network access.
  • Access and isolation: Private 5G networks offer restricted access and isolation, providing greater control and higher service availability to support always-on operations. Hybrid 5G networks, due to their combination of public and private networks, may not offer the same level of restricted access and isolation as private networks.

Both hybrid 5G and private 5G networks offer enhanced performance, security, and control over network resources. They cater to the specific needs of various industries and applications, expanding the potential use cases of 5G technology.

However, hybrid 5G networks offer a range of benefits over private 5G networks, including enhanced connectivity, optimized performance, seamless integration with legacy infrastructure, 5G network slicing, cost-effectiveness, and fail-safe internet. These advantages make hybrid 5G networks an attractive option for many organizations.

Next Steps for Decision-Makers

Both hybrid 5G and private 5G networks offer promising solutions for businesses looking to leverage the benefits of 5G technology. By understanding these concepts and their implications, businesses can make informed decisions about their networking strategies. However, the choice between a private and hybrid 5G network depends on the specific needs and resources of the enterprise. It’s important to conduct a thorough assessment of specific use cases and technical requirements before making a decision.

In addition, hybrid 5G is a newly emerging technology, with nationwide 5G rollouts happening slower than expected in most geographies. While most technologies are developed to meet the demands of enterprises and their use cases, 5G is ahead of its time, with enterprises and operators still in the process of identifying use cases and deciding how best to utilize the technology effectively.

Take the time needed to understand the technology and talk to operators in your geography to identify the possibilities for your enterprise.

To learn more, take a look at GigaOm’s hybrid 5G Key Criteria and Radar reports. These reports provide a comprehensive overview of the market, outline the criteria you’ll want to consider in a purchase decision, and evaluate how a number of vendors perform against those decision criteria.

If you’re not yet a GigaOm subscriber, you can access the research using a free trial.