Virgin Media O2 offers 5G SA private network in a box

Virgin Media O2 (VMO2) Business claims it is the first U.K. telco to offer a portable commercial 5G standalone (SA) private network with plug-and-play capability.

According to Virgin Media O2, companies can use the new portable network to immediately access 5G connectivity at the flick of a switch, without the time and expense of building an entire network.

Virgin Media O2 private 5G
The new portable network enables companies to immediately access 5G connectivity "at the flick of a switch," according to the operator.  (Virgin Media O2 )

Described as “only slightly larger than a carry-on airline bag,” the new product can be deployed by non-telecom engineers and enable businesses of all sizes to access private 5G. The portable enclosure for the network-in-a-box measures 58.5cm x 54.5cm x 51 cm, according to a Virgin Media O2 spokesperson.

The portable private network supports both VMO2 licensed N78, aka 3.5 GHz, and shared access N77 (3.7 GHz) spectrum for indoor and outdoor use, and that’s determined based on the site location, the spokesperson said.

Trials already have been conducted, including with Wayra, Telefonica’s innovation arm, enabling customers and small businesses to experience 5G SA-enabled applications first-hand. Start-ups based in Wayra’s London office already have benefited from the solution, including Mobilus Labs, an organization using advanced voice technology to enable industrial teams to communicate in environments with extreme noise (85 dB+).

The product uses Nokia Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) and Nokia MX Industrial Edge (MXIE), which allows organizations like Mobilus Labs to safety support mission-critical applications, according to Virgin Media O2.

“Moving beyond trials, Virgin Media O2 Business is now the UK’s first telco to offer a portable commercial 5G Standalone Private Network. Britain is a hub for innovation, so it’s crucial that companies operating here can access the connectivity needed to create new experiences for customers,” said Jo Bertram, managing director at Virgin Media O2 Business, in a statement. “From start-ups to large enterprises, our latest network solution will enable 5G trials and deployment without the time or cost of building a whole network. Removing barriers, like location and cost, to ensure that businesses get the connection they need.”

Phil Siveter, CEO at Nokia UK&I, said Nokia has deployed mission-critical networks to more than 2,600 leading enterprise customers in the transportation, energy, manufacturing, webscale and public sector segments around the globe.

“We have also extended our expertise to more than 635 private wireless customers worldwide,” Siveter said in a statement. “This private wireless network delivers on high resilience, performance, and security as part of the OT Edge, helping to accelerate enterprise adoption of OT transformation.”

Operator involvement is key

Baicells VP of Marketing Tony Eigen provided commentary on Virgin Mobile O2’s development in the U.K.

“We've witnessed the launch of 'private 5G in a box' services before, courtesy of companies like AWS,” he said in an emailed statement to media. “However, today's unique aspect is that it's being commercially introduced by an operator. This means that businesses can now experience true 'plug and play' convenience, gaining access to VMO2's spectrum directly. In contrast, previous solutions required making arrangements with operators for spectrum usage.”

He noted that in the U.S. market, plug-and-play private 5G has become a reality thanks to the availability of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, which can be accessed by pretty much anyone looking to rapidly and cost-effectively launch a wireless network.

“The U.K. should consider launching a similar initiative to CBRS, enabling companies to easily embrace out-of-the-box private wireless solutions. This would foster a more competitive market and drive down technology costs,” he added.