This is the first blog in a two-part series introducing private mobile networks and the benefits they can bring to businesses in Australia.

4G LTE and 5G private mobile networks will revolutionise the way enterprises connect, operate and communicate across all industries. For businesses in Australia to take full advantage, it’s important to first understand what a private mobile network is and how it works — and what it does differently from Wi-Fi and public mobile connectivity.

What is a private mobile network?

At a high level, a private mobile network is a local area wireless communications network that connects users, devices and machines within an industrial campus or facility. This includes 5G, which is the next generation of mobile technology, following 4G LTE. 5G has been designed to deliver greater network performance, with streamlined configuration and management systems. This makes it easy for an enterprise to work with a partner to deploy and manage a mobile network for private use.

Most important is the fact that a private mobile network is reserved exclusively for a single enterprise’s use. Unlike public mobile connectivity, the network resources aren’t shared with any other users in the area — resulting in more reliable performance for an enterprise’s wireless applications.

This is achieved through dedicated network equipment installed on-premises, like antennas, radios and baseband units. Together, these form a local radio access network (RAN) that provides seamless coverage across a facility or campus, even in hard-to-reach locations. The RAN elements then connect to gateways, routers and cloud-based network functions to create the core network, which orchestrates security, packet routing, billing and policy management functions. All this infrastructure is custom-designed and configured to meet the performance requirements of an organisation’s specific wireless applications and use cases.

A private mobile network is made private through dedicated spectrum allocation. Spectrum refers to the range of electromagnetic radio waves that wireless networks use to communicate. If different wireless services are operating in the same geographic area, they need to use different frequency bands within the spectrum. Otherwise, the signals will interfere with each other and cause performance issues.

Think of it like trying to talk to somebody on the other side of a room during a party. With all the crosstalk, you might pick up just 10 percent of what that person is saying. With a private mobile network, you’re now speaking with that person at your own table. Unlike Wi-Fi that uses unlicensed spectrum available to everybody, a private mobile network uses spectrum that is licensed from the Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) for an organisation’s exclusive use. Nobody else in the licence area is allowed to use the same frequency band, resulting in better signal quality with limited interference and consistent network performance.

Benefits of a private mobile network

There are several reasons why a private 5G network makes sense for enterprises across all sectors, including:

  • Reliability and low latency:
    Private mobile networks’ use of dedicated licenced spectrum along with edge gateways makes them fit for purpose to deliver the coverage reach, consistent performance and reliability needed for mission-critical applications, like the deterministic and extremely low latency required by remotely operated cranes at a port or mine, where even the slightest delay could result in an accident. Edge gateways shift essential core network functions to the customer premises, enabling a local point of interconnect to an enterprise’s internal network for edge computing and low latency applications. This enables the deployment of new use cases that were previously impossible and achieve business outcomes not seen before.
  • Customisability:
    Private mobile networks are designed from the ground up to match an enterprise’s precise requirements for latency, throughput, capacity, coverage area and more. Detailed network design and coverage planning is conducted based on the specific characteristics of the operational environment. For even greater performance and reliability, enterprises can tap into 5G quality of service (QoS) flows, which are designed specifically to meet the needs of advanced industrial applications. 5G QoS flows make it possible to deliver a variety of services and applications over a single physical network, so one flow might be configured for the demanding requirements of mission-critical communications, while another handles the less stringent requirements of environmental sensors. The same network can cater to both extremes, prioritising and allocating available resources accordingly.
  • Scalability:
    With a private mobile network, it’s easy to achieve ubiquitous wireless coverage or deploy additional radio sites as needed. Enterprises often start small to test out the capabilities of a private 5G network with one or two use cases, then scale up as time goes on. Each radio site has the capacity to support thousands of connected devices concurrently, which makes it possible to cater to a high volume of users and devices and start to realise benefits right from the initial deployment. As the scope of applications and coverage areas expand, new radio sites are added to deliver the required connectivity. Additional spectrum bandwidth, where available, can also be provisioned to boost network capacity as data traffic and throughput requirements grow over time.
  • Security:
    Advanced security is built natively into 5G. It uses SIM-based authentication and identity management (rather than passwords) to ensure only authorised handsets and industrial IoT devices can connect to the network. It also uses the latest data encryption technologies to keep sensitive information from being visible to third parties. And when edge gateways are installed on-premises, a private mobile network can help ensure data sovereignty. Edge gateways ensure user data carried over a private mobile network always stays within the perimeter of the organisation’s internal network.

When would a private mobile network be preferred over public mobile connectivity?

For any mobile network, quality of service depends on traffic load. The more people connected to the network; the more performance suffers. By not having to share network resources with users outside your enterprise, a private 5G network gives you higher reliability and lower latency for mission-critical applications. There’s also more capacity available to support a greater number of connected users and devices — thousands at a time without any loss in quality. Plus, you get greater control over how the network is accessed and managed and can keep user data from leaving your site by utilising edge gateways.

A private mobile network can even help bring reliable connectivity to the regional, rural and offshore areas of Australia where public mobile coverage is patchy or not available at all. As it’s often not economically feasible for MNOs to build the infrastructure needed to bring public connectivity to these areas, enterprises can take charge and do it themselves with a private mobile network they control.

When would a private mobile network be preferred over Wi-Fi?

Private mobile networks work well with Wi-Fi because their unique attributes are suited for different things. As it uses dedicated spectrum, a private mobile network is a better choice for mission-critical applications like the remotely operated cranes mentioned earlier. However, you can complement that with Wi-Fi’s unlicensed spectrum for less critical tasks, like wireless connectivity in the office for email and other administrative tasks, where variable performance won’t have much of an impact.

Similarly, Wi-Fi might be the most appropriate choice for small indoor or confined outdoor areas with lots of open space (e.g., limited obstructions or metallic surfaces that could cause signal interference). But if you need ubiquitous coverage for larger facilities with dynamic, complex environments (e.g., many room partitions, moving obstructions or metallic surfaces) or sprawling outdoor areas, a private 5G network is the better option because dedicated spectrum allows 5G radios to provide much larger coverage reach than Wi-Fi access points.

5G is also designed for people and equipment on the go: as they move throughout the coverage area, continuity of service is maintained. That’s not always the case with Wi-Fi, where mobile assets like vehicles can briefly lose connectivity when transferring from one wireless access point to another. Also, while Wi-Fi is useful in that it can support most devices, providing that broad compatibility means relying on older encryption protocols (e.g., WPA2) that are easier to hack than those inherent to 5G.

What’s next for private mobile networks in Australia

According to the ACMA, there were more than 50 private mobile networks in use in Australia at the end of 2023, with plans for many more in the years to come. By 2027, experts anticipate that the domestic market for private mobile networks will reach nearly $700 million.

While currently most of those networks are currently used by the mining and resources sector, businesses across all industries can benefit.

Find out more about our Private Mobile Network solution.