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What will private 5G mean for the future of business?

Private 5G

5G delivers increased mobility, performance and security – though its impact may be felt more greatly in private networks than in public adoption for the immediate future. How will private 5G change the face of industry, travel and leisure?

Despite many industry publications and analysts – ourselves included – making much noise about 5G, in 2022, we’re still very much waiting for the wave of hype around public 5G to finally crest.

As more and more businesses look to get their employees back in the workplace and travel limping slowly and chaotically back to pre-pandemic levels, attention is turning once again to the promises of 5G in transforming the future of industry, leisure and travel.

We predicted back in our Telecom Trends for 2021 that the driving force behind 5G adoption would be private, not public, networks, an area which is growing massively compared to the relatively muted take-up seen among consumers.

However, private networks are not new or exclusive to 5G – Rio Tinto launched a private 4G/LTE service back in 2012 at an iron ore mine in The Pilbara, Western Australia, but since the advent of 5G, the number of mobile private networks (MPNs) in operation worldwide is forecast to jump tenfold by 2026.

5G-ready MPNs are what will meet the demand for superfast connectivity in designated geographic spaces with predictable performance and low latency across a wide coverage area, using either private spectrum or a slice from a public 5G network.

For a higher level of data transmission, security and control, private 5G networks can be deployed by organisations owning their own equipment and operating their own network, or by leasing the equipment and hosting the network via private or public cloud.

Network slicing is a key monetisation opportunity in 5G, creating separate, virtualised networks within a single physical network that can manage various industrial tasks, including automation, monitoring and maintenance, with network performance and guaranteed quality of service based on significance and urgency.

And with worldwide revenues expected to reach $8.3 billion by 2026, at a CAGR of 35.7%, private 5G can open up a vast new source of income for CSPs.

I say can, because for all their expertise, CSPs are demonstrably not the main players in the market, playing second fiddle to Network Equipment Providers and a host of other companies who are taking the lion’s share of revenue, according to analyst data:

Release 16 of the 3GPP’s 5G specifications brought a host of new and improved features, such as enhancements to network slicing, location services, security, and reliability of up to 99.9999%. These enhancements will be most useful in Industry 4.0 and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), with large manufacturing centres and dispersed infrastructure requiring low interference and high stability levels.

Another important feature of private 5G is its ability to support a high connection density from many different user types, including employees, site infrastructure, third parties, and users requiring transient access. Factories, schools, hospitals, air/seaports and large entertainment venues – all must serve vast numbers of end-users with a variety of needs, juggling tens of thousands of connections per square kilometre from users and IoT devices.

While 4G may already be able to handle this load, private 5G networks can support up to a million connected devices per square kilometre, many of which aren’t suitable for wired connections. Prioritised connectivity can be given to mission critical devices requiring high bandwidth and low latency, such as autonomous vehicles, while industrial sensors may need lower speed and infrequent bursts of data.

Higher connection density and portability will result in even bigger use cases; entire smart cities of the future may even see their own dedicated networks, such as National Landing, AT&T’s 5G Smart City near Washington D.C. promising “self-driving vehicles, immersive retail and entertainment, and building automation and environmental sustainability.”

However, all these connections and associated private 5G infrastructure are not without their own costs – from the network equipment, such as small cell base stations, to the routers, IoT equipment and devices – mean that, for the immediate future, it’s likely that only the largest of enterprise customers (or governments) will be able to shoulder the cost of these networks.

The biggest investment for private 5G, though, may come through buying the spectrum allocation, be it from mobile network operators, government bodies or spectrum resellers. The increased availability of dedicated spectrum for industry is as much to thank for the growth in private 5G as the advancements in mobile technology, but this rise also means that finding new frequency is becoming increasingly difficult.

Previously, licences have been reserved solely for MNOs, but many regulatory bodies are designating more and more bandwidth for private use. And how much spectrum is made available to private companies, and at what frequencies, varies significantly from region to region.

However, more troubling than the cost barrier to private 5G, is the resistance from within the telecoms industry itself, as MNOs hunt down any and all unaccounted-for spectrum.

For example, in India, leading MNOs Bharti Airtel, Reliance Jio and Vodafone Idea are trying to block other companies from buying 5G spectrum directly from the Telecoms Regulatory Authority of India (TRAI). In the eyes of this trio, the revenue from private 5G is too great to lose, and without getting the spectrum they need, risks reducing them to “dumb pipe” status.

In the US, such is the desire to control the spectrum that T-Mobile is willing to risk stoking the anger of God himself, taking several Christian school boards to court over their Educational Broadband Service licences. An FCC initiative dating back decades granted school districts spectrum to broadcast educational programming and provide wireless broadband. With surplus bandwidth, many of these boards already leased it to CSPs for some extra funds. When the FCC subsequently granted the school boards permission to sell their licences in 2020, T-Mobile set about purchasing those licenses it once leased, fighting any other sale attempts with fire and brimstone of their own.

Private 5G will remain a fruitful market for CSPs well into the next decade, as interest in, and adoption of, these networks in multiple industries continues to accelerate – provided they can prove their key credentials and add value over and above basic connectivity.

Cerillion’s BSS/OSS suite is equipped to help your business monetise the private 5G opportunity. Speak to one of our consultants today to find out more

About the author

Adam Hughes


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