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AWS Brings Private 5G to the Cloud Party

Marcus Burton Architect, Cloud Technology Published 2 Dec 2021

You’ve probably heard by now about AWS Private 5G, which is the Amazon Web Services (AWS) approach to enterprise private cellular. I’d like to share a few observations about the announcement, but first, some quick facts, if you haven’t seen them already.

On November 30th, AWS, an Amazon.com, Inc. company announced AWS Private 5G, their new offering AWS Private 5G, a managed service for private cellular networks for enterprises. AWS wants to bring the operational benefits of cloud services (auto-scaling, no servers to manage, redundancy, etc.) and apply them to the traditional complexity of cellular networks. Of course, delivering the easy management paradigm of AWS to enterprise cellular is a big part of their story. The AWS Private 5G offering is an end-to-end solution that packages up the network management, cellular core, radios, and SIMs into a single consumption-based service.

So far, the announcement is only that, an announcement. AWS offers registration for preview access, but the focus, for now, is only in the United States with the shared CBRS spectrum model. It might also be worth pointing out that AWS explicitly mentions both 4G/LTE as well as 5G in their materials, so despite the Private 5G positioning, 4G is still the go-to technology for private deployments.

There is still a lot to learn about the solution and how it will be delivered to customers, but even with lean details, I’ll risk some observations.

Welcome to Cloud

Obviously, AWS is the premiere cloud pioneer, but, notably, it has taken this long for cellular to finally embrace cloud. However, this is cloud embracing cellular. At an enterprise 5G conference recently, I heard the phrase “it needs to be more like Wi-Fi” about 25 times. Extreme’s enterprise Wi-Fi has been cloud-managed for about a decade now, and we’ve seen that enterprises have wholly embraced the cloud. Enterprise professionals realize that the cloud is not just for applications but also for enterprise networks: Wi-Fi, router/switch management, security, SD-WAN, IoT, and more. Private cellular management in the cloud was inevitable. Welcome cellular to the cloud party!

The Connection Edge is a Value Layer

It’s important to recognize that this announcement is a deeper admission that the cloud can’t do everything. If all the application delivery value left the premises and departed to the cloud, then why would the top cloud company want a piece of the connection edge? The reality is exactly what we’ve been demonstrating to enterprises for quite some time—application and device insights, via on-premises, are massively valuable to businesses. Those insights come from the connection edge (Wi-Fi, Ethernet, WAN), where there is a trove of value in terms of security, location, user engagement, customer experience, operational continuity, and analytics. AWS recognizes the deep value of the connection edge.

The Consumption Model

Cloud app delivery has proven that subscription- or consumption-based pricing works for many services and workloads. We’ve seen this occur with managed network services, cloud-native applications built on network data, and of course, in many environments outside networking. The software delivery world has embraced it, but I have some doubts about timing. Are enterprises ready to pay for a network per GB of wireless usage, especially if those bytes are still riding on their existing network and WAN infrastructure? This consumption model is closer to the historical cellular approach to data management, but it’s a far cry from how enterprises think about private network bandwidth today.

The Delivery Model

AWS clearly has the chops to deliver apps and software-centric services to enterprises. Networks are going through a shift, but it remains an open question how well AWS can serve network professionals. The reseller/distributor community has long been a facilitator to network deployments. Yet, despite the hand-waving of AWS regarding simplicity, there are still several essential elements to handle. Consider network design tools and best practices, integration with existing (and varied) Ethernet/IP designs and fabrics, device installation and mounting best practices, CBRS SAS requirements, and more. No doubt AWS can deliver these, but is their current structure ideal for it? We shall see.

There are Network Intersections

I keep telling people that 5G and Wi-Fi are simultaneously complementary, competitive, and convergent. AWS’ action will only accelerate the value of converged systems, especially where management functions, like policy, security, location, and analytics, all meet together. Enterprises don’t want another infrastructure to manage differently with a new dashboard, especially for dual-mode (Wi-Fi and cellular) devices. Despite that, swivel-chair management is a reality they might still deal with, but thanks to the cloud, it has become less amenable in the converged wired/wireless era. So the wireless/wireless (5G/Wi-Fi) convergence value game is afoot, and the cloud is a great playground for it to play out. Where there are already great policy/NAC engines, location solutions, data analytics, security platforms, and other converge-able services, there will be exciting next steps.

Simplicity vs Customization

And finally, I will point out that simplicity and customizability are often at odds. AWS is coming in hot on the simplicity story, which will be a boon to small and medium enterprises looking for simple plug-n-play connectivity. But where more flexibility is desired, especially with neutral host and other types of licensed spectrum integration, the plug-n-play model becomes more challenging. AWS is undoubtedly well aware, but this will be an intriguing litmus as enterprises continue the education journey with private cellular, cloud, and integration with existing well-understood networks.

Regardless, it is a very exciting time to be involved in cloud, wireless, and networking!

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