By David Crawford

CONNECTIVITY has become a defining feature of the modern economy. With Industry 4.0, the Internet of Things, and smart cities, the digital transformation of the way we produce, move and consume goods is becoming more and more reliant on connectivity.

Businesses face many pain points when it comes to operating on publicly available networks, including slow connection speeds, dead spots, bandwidth issues and less robust security – making organisations more susceptible to cyber-attacks, hacking and malware.

And, for some, the scale and complexity of their industrial operations means their connectivity needs cannot be met by public network and Wi-Fi options easily. Businesses in more urban areas are forced to compete with thousands of consumers for wireless bandwidth, while those in rural locations struggle with limited access to public mobile coverage is limited.

Wi-Fi networks are typically less secure or able to support the seamless mobility of an organisation’s connected devices. Prone to interference or connection problems, closing this communications gap is a business imperative. As a result, many organisations are exploring the benefits of building and deploying their own private mobile network.

Dedicated 5G mobile communications networks built for and owned by businesses, private networks are designed to support the specific needs of sites and applications – whether its automated production lines or increased bandwidth to log and analyse data.

Connecting assets, equipment and people on a single private network is fast becoming the foundation of digitalisation and automation strategy for enterprises including healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, mining, and transport hubs. They can support the use of drones to assess site maintenance; the speedy download of flight data at airports; the use of AI to optimise planning, and much more.

Importantly, they can enable a range of applications to support safety on site. Personal devices can be monitored to continually "health-check" workers in hazardous or high-stress environments. Environmental sensor data can be used for air quality monitoring and detection of contaminants. Video surveillance and geolocation can be used to track the location of assets, and people can be removed from hazardous locations entirely through task automation and remote control.

And during a time of ongoing supply chain disruption and skilled worker shortages, the increased adoption of 5G private networks is essential to support business continuity. Helping businesses to tap into the 5G opportunity, they can refine and ramp up productivity, and facilitate the economic recovery post-Covid, with studies suggesting that wider 5G adoption in business could boost GDP by up to £4 3billion by 2030 .

Private networks are designed to meet the changing needs of business, foster innovation, and facilitate smarter ways of operating, and initiatives like the Scottish Government’s Digital Productivity fund – designed to provide backing for businesses to implement new technologies – may help create business opportunities to invest in private networks.

David Crawford is Managing Director of Cellnex UK