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HPE seamlessly blends private 5G and Wi-Fi networks

Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) has developed a new solution for organizations deploying private 5G infrastructure that allows for seamless movement of client devices across both 5G and Wi-Fi networks.

Although private 5G promises to deliver a much better experience for larger campus networks and industrial environments, traditional Wi-Fi 6 networks still have a place in most enterprises. For instance, even though 5G offers better wide-area coverage, Wi-Fi is a much more cost-effective solution for indoor connectivity and is also supported by a wider range of client devices.

People working and collaborating in open office space.

With its new offering, HPE recognizes that it can be a challenge making these two different worlds work together, and it’s built a new solution using Aruba Wi-Fi to allow devices to roam between private 5G and Wi-Fi as if everything is just a single unified network.

Moving between 5G and Wi-Fi

HPE began laying the foundation for this in early 2020 with the announcement of Aruba Air Pass, a service that could allow devices to seamlessly hand off between traditional cellular and Wi-Fi networks. The goal of Air Pass was to securely authenticate guests to private enterprise Wi-Fi networks using credentials from their mobile operator.

With Air Pass, eligible devices could simply hop onto Wi-Fi as necessary, without the need to hunt for Wi-Fi networks, figure out which one to join, and deal with passwords and captive portals. This would ensure that employees, students, customers, and visitors could always benefit from the best connectivity available, supplementing indoor cellular coverage gaps with stronger and faster Wi-Fi technology.

Today’s announcement extends that to deliver the same kind of experience for organizations using their own private 5G infrastructure, effectively providing the same benefits in the opposite direction. Existing Wi-Fi networks can be extended into private cellular networks, allowing folks to roam throughout a campus, industrial plant, airport, or even a large retail space, transitioning between 5G and Wi-Fi connections as needed, without ever missing a beat.

This kind of seamless connectivity is critical when working with real-time applications like video conferencing and Wi-Fi calling, and with private 5G deployments, it also ensures that client devices won’t need to be concerned with which network they’re using.

For example, a university student may start on a dorm Wi-Fi network in the morning, shift to a campus-wide 5G network on their way to their first class, and then move right back onto a different Wi-Fi network when they arrive at the lecture hall. To the student, their smartphone, or tablet will simply remain connected the whole time, without the need for them to do anything.

Driving wider 5G adoption

For organizations looking to start building their own private 5G networks, HPE is also offering pre-integrated private 5G solutions with radio access network (RAN) equipment from leading vendors to provide rapid deployment, using what are basically canned solutions. HPE is also offering a variety of these turnkey systems, right down to hardened “5G-in-a-box” systems designed for remote industrial and military or tactical applications.

In fact, HPE describes its pre-integrated 5G Core Stack as “a full 5G core network that is shrink-wrapped and inflatable,” — a solution that it says can be deployed, tested, and up and running in less than 60 minutes.

All of HPE’s integrated solutions are also O-RAN compliant, which means that customers won’t have to worry about being locked into a single vendor’s platform. The HPE 5G Core Stack will also be available as a pre-integrated software and hardware platform via HPE’s GreenLake infrastructure-as-a-service solution. This not only provides a lower cost of entry that lets organizations quickly get started but can be scaled on demand as needs change.

The unified private 5G network and Wi-Fi infrastructure also means that staff will have a single point of management for devices, regardless of which networks they’re on. Information technology (IT) staff only have to provision a device once to enable it to access all the private 5G and Wi-Fi networks on campus.

With these new solutions, HPE is aiming to make it as simple as possible for organizations to get started with deploying their own private 5G networks, which should result in much wider adoption of 5G technologies, moving us into an ever more connected world.

“Data growth is creating countless new opportunities across many industries, but superfast, stable and secure connectivity is essential to enable these digital experiences,” said Tom Craig, VP and General Manager, HPE Communications Technology Group, in a press release. “With our leadership in both enterprise and cellular connectivity, HPE is the perfect partner to help customers deploy private networks that are future-proofed for today’s data-first reality. Together, HPE’s private 5G solution and Aruba Wi-Fi technology promise a complete private networking solution that helps to optimize the working environment.”

This kind of melding of public and private 5G networks with traditional Wi-Fi technologies promises a world where network connectivity just works; where your mobile devices stay connected wherever you are, transparently letting you access the resources you need without manually jumping across multiple networks or worrying about Wi-Fi passwords and captive portals.

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