Private networks: New players, new opportunities

The advantages of private mobile networks are well rehearsed – from data usage savings and enhanced traffic flow to better control and information security. However, if these private networks are to make a significant impact on delivering LTE and 5G value to verticals, new routes to market and business models are essential.

In the context of maximising the LTE opportunity and taking 5G beyond the opportunities associated with eMBB, it’s becoming clear that the growing complexity of the wireless ecosystem is throwing up new challenges to delivering the right services to meet a diversity of enterprise demand. In particular, interest is growing in alternatives to the linear vendor to MNO to end-user model outside a consumer context, while the wireless industry continues to operate as if it’s the only game in town. This, in spite of the fact that the specificity of enterprise use cases, coupled with the difficulty of scaling-down existing national MNO services and OEM product delivery commercial models, make it tough to imagine how many of the much vaunted 5G revenue-opportunities can be deliver viable B2B propositions.

The engineers’ answer to this is typically “more technology”, specifically network slicing is concept that shows some promise as an emerging MNO driven approach. Well maybe. Or rather maybe at some point. In the meantime, however, the more immediate prospect is that private networks will be delivered by a wide-range of third-parties that include various flavours of neutral host, systems integrators, disruptive start-ups, specialised service offshoots of MNOs and OEMs or any combination of the above.

At Real Wireless, we recognise the potential of private networks for a range of verticals. There are already signs that the wireless industry is organizing around proprietary technologies and well-worn partnerships, rather than seizing this opportunity to finally get close to hard-to-reach sectors, really understand their requirements and deliver the right technology and service at a sustainable price point. Understanding the client’s needs, dimensioning a network that supports the required applications now and in future, selecting the best vendor and picking an appropriate procurement or delivery model is critical, and that’s where Real Wireless’ expertise comes in. This applies to all kinds of use cases and environments, from rural blackspot coverage to industrial and smart city applications.

Topping the list of private network benefits is the ability to customise your network to meet existing demand while future-proofing to make the most of future opportunities. For example, a private 5G network if procured correctly can bring support for a public networking logical function, or you can overlay a public network, as long as you build the private network with the right architectural ‘hooks’ in it, from day one. In this way enterprise customers can enable a new business opportunity over time.

This is the sort of network progression being explored within the AutoAir consortium: building a small cell network, providing good local private connectivity and then building a neutral host model on top of that, enabling to, for example, overlay a mobile operator or provide private connectivity.

Something similar was demonstrated in the sea-port based 5G MoNAch project. We dimensioned a network for some areas – focused on private and industrial/commercial consumers – of a port but considered also the public access requirement to the same physical network. Other requirements were very much focused on IoT and automation, which was clearly the job of a private network. But we dimensioned two virtual networks that were built upon the same physical infrastructure within that campus network environment.

Private networks have the potential to be both disruptive in the context of the wireless industry and hugely valuable to key vertical sectors. We’re looking forward to working with both businesses and key players in the new and evolving ecosystem to maximise the opportunities.