NTT taps startup Celona for its managed private 5G service

The intention is to provide organizations with an end-to-end package that offers full visibility and administration of P5G networks.

Cellular connectivity in the enterprise has been hyped for more than a decade, but it had largely flopped because WiFi has remained the only viable option for wireless. Older versions of cellular, such as 3G and 4G, didn't have the necessary speed or ease of deployment to compete with WiFi, even though the latter does have reliability problems. Many industry analysts, myself included, look at 5G as a game-changer, because standards such as CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) bring speeds that exceed WiFi with the reliability of cellular. 

Some businesses will choose to deploy the technology themselves, but many will defer to a managed service because of a lack of familiarity. 5G is fundamentally different than 4G and every other version of wireless because it is the first cloud-era technology standard in networking. It uses modern software-defined principles, strict policy enforcement, and cloud-native microservices. 

With the latest advancements in this space, organizations have the opportunity to deploy private 5G (P5G) networks that are specifically customized for their business and highly adaptable to changes; however, a lack of best practices could create some risk, and managed services de-risk deployment. 

NTT launches managed private 5G service using Celona 

Telecom provider NTT has launched the first globally available private P5G Network-as-a-Service platform that can be deployed via cloud, on-premises, or at the edge. The platform is pre-integrated with an end-to-end stack of services from various network and software partners, giving enterprises flexibility when implementing it.

The primary 5G provider for this service is Celona Networks, a startup that developed an enterprise-class P5G that configures, and is managed, like WiFi. The technology uses a technique called MicroSlicing, which is based on a 5G multi-tenancy principle in which a single physical infrastructure has multiple tenants or slices. MicroSlicing automatically enforces and tracks key service levels, including latency, jitter, and packet error rates. This allows applications to perform over a wireless network much as they would over a wired network.

The P5G platform goes beyond connectivity to help organizations build highly agile enterprise networks, NTT's Shahid Ahmed told ZK Research in an interview. Ahmed recently joined NTT as Executive Vice-President of New Ventures and Innovation to lead the company's P5G service portfolio. The portfolio includes a rich ecosystem of network and edge devices.

NTT will offer public/private 5G roaming 

"Out of the gate, we'll be offering public-private roaming. That's a key use case for many of the transportation logistics companies, but also increasingly for warehouses," Ahmed said. "Whether they're using a phone or a RealWear (wearable industrial) device when performing a complex task or workflow in a warehouse, we're going to work with our third-party partners to enable digital transformation for that frontline worker."

NTT is taking a subscription-based approach with the platform, rather than a pay-per-use approach. Organizations will have cost certainty by choosing different tiers of service based on the network design and their needs, similar to Amazon Web Services. 

The intention is to provide organizations with an end-to-end solution that offers full visibility and administration of P5G networks, said Parm Sandhu, Vice-President of Enterprise 5G Products and Services at NTT. Using the platform, chief information officers and IT administrators can control items such as policy management, security management, and configuration management—all from a single self-service portal.

Security intrinsic to NTT solution 

Security is another major factor why some compliance-driven industries might prefer an end-to-end solution. Health care, for example, has strict regulations for how data moves around the network. To meet the needs of those organizations, NTT's P5G platform uses zero-trust network access (ZTNA) principles to secure access to applications and services both on-premises and in the cloud. With ZTNA, access to network resources is tightly managed and various restrictions can be applied down to the app level.

"Security must be built into network design," Sandhu said. "There's no way a telco is going to integrate any kind of authentication into the land network an enterprise is using. So, there are some really exciting future things we're going to be doing by bringing 5G into the enterprise."

It's important to understand that P5G should not be viewed as a replacement for WiFi--at least not yet, because the number of WiFi-connected devices dwarfs 5G-capable ones. Businesses should look at augmenting their WiFi deployment with P5G and use it when network reliability is a must. Manufacturing, health care, facilities, and factories are great examples. Also, many of the IoT devices that will be used to ensure that the workplace is safe should use P5G, but the typical knowledge worker use case is fine using WiFi. NTT's managed service can help organizations plan where best to use the two technologies.

The promise of cellular as an enterprise technology has been on the horizon, but the hype never lived up to the reality. The most recent version of cellular, 5G, has been completely redesigned to address a world where everything is connected, making it something all businesses should consider.