Mobile private networks: a new market in dispute
Those who visited the stands of the leading telecommunications infrastructure manufacturers at this year’s Mobile World Congress had no doubts: the private mobile network market is on the agenda. No wonder, after all, it represents a significant expansion in the customer base of manufacturers and operators, and is also a way to monetize 5G networks. However, the topic gained little space on the event’s panel agenda. And the only session dedicated to the topic had as its title the question: “Are private networks a hype?”. It is worth noting that most of the panelists and the audience at the session agreed that this is not a hip. On the contrary, private mobile networks are a reality and will greatly move the telecom market.
The question is perhaps: who will lead this market? Today this is completely open. On the one hand are the mobile operators, who have invested heavily in 5G, have control over a significant portion of the spectrum and have long experience in deploying and managing networks. On the other hand, there are IT and telecom integrators who can lead projects both in partnership with operators and without them, in the case of countries where regulatory bodies have released frequency bands for private networks, such as the USA, Germany, Japan and , yes, Brazil. And in between are infrastructure manufacturers. Its device is essential for any project, whether from telecom companies or integrators.
For manufacturers, private networks represent an opportunity to expand their customer base, reducing their dependence on operators. However, neither wants to throw away their decades-long relationship and billion-dollar contracts with the telcos, which causes some caution when talking about the business model behind private networks. But it was enough to walk around its stands at the fair to see that the theme was there, albeit with different names, such as “5G for business”.
Among the major manufacturers, Nokia is probably the most engaged in promoting private networks. The transformation of its logo, announced during the fair, had among its motives to return the site to its history, leaving behind the past as a brand aimed at the final consumer and now taking on a new guise as a supplier of technology for the corporate market. Its CEO, Pekka Lundmark, reported that the business sector was one of the fastest growing in its operation in 2022 and is rapidly gaining importance within Nokia.
Another enthusiast of private mobile networks is the Chinese company Baicells. At MWC, it introduced several new standalone 5G and 4G small cells, including some specifically aimed at private mobile networks, operating on frequencies available in Brazil, such as 3.7 GHz and 2.3 GHz, and within established power limits from Anatel for these networks. Most of its new devices should arrive in Brazil in the second and third quarters of this year, sold by Telesys.
Operators, for their part, are waiting for the adoption of network sharing functionality to be able to offer mobile private networks as an off-the-shelf product. The projects they have been involved with so far are mostly sold to large companies in the oil, energy and mining sectors and are often located in remote areas. Network slicing relies on standalone 5G networks, still available in a few countries around the world. This would explain the telco’s shyness in addressing the topic at MWC: it’s better to wait until they have the network share in hand to jump right into this game.
Cloud computing integrators and providers (hyperscalers) are the most excited about this topic. AWS is one of them. Its director Sameer Vuyyuru reported that AWS has participated in the implementation of more than 200 mobile private networks so far. Many of them are in schools and universities across the US.
NTT is also excited about the potential. It points to the industrial sector as the main demander for private networks at the moment. “Factories want to get rid of cables and wires to have more flexibility in the production line. Cables are a problem,” said Shahid Ahmed, executive vice president of new ventures and innovation at NTT. He argued that Wi-Fi does not always serve this purpose, because if the factory is very large, many access points are needed. Moreover , delivery on Wi-Fi does not work as well as on a cellular network, which hinders, for example, the movement of automated guided vehicles (AVG) in large warehouses.
And even traditional Wi-Fi equipment manufacturers like Cisco and HPE don’t want to be left out. They agree that the cellular network is better for coverage in outdoor areas and advocate the adoption of hybrid private networks, which combine the two technologies.
“We did the PoC to prove the value proposition and concluded that there is a lot of demand (for private networks). But to become mass market, it needs to be cheap, easy to use and combined with Wi-Fi. It is not a question of choosing between one technology or another, but of combining the two. And this is a market where customers prefer managed services, including consumption-based pricing,” said Luke McDonald, vice president and general manager, Americas, HPE, speaking to Mobile Time. HPE recently acquired Athonet, an Italian company specializing in private mobile networks, in a demonstration of its interest in this market.
Cisco wants to offer cloud solutions for the virtualization of 5G private networks and sees potential especially in outdoor coverage projects, while for indoor environments it continues to understand that Wi-Fi is the best option, due to cost, ease of implementation and performance improvement. with the arrival of Wi-Fi 6E and the availability of 6 GHz spectrum for this band, commented Cisco Brazil general manager Ricardo Mucci, also in conversation with Mobile Time during Mobile World Congress.
There are millions of companies in the world that are potential customers of private mobile networks. The market is so large that, strictly speaking, there is room for telecom companies, integrators, manufacturers and hyperscalers to play important roles, combining their expertise. Due to the appetite presented, the trend is for more and more implementations of mobile private networks to appear in the most diverse verticals, with different business models, with and without the participation of operators.
Mobile Time organizes the MPN Forum in Brazil, the first seminar dedicated exclusively to the mobile private network market. In the first two editions, held in 2022, the cases of private networks from Petrobras, Neoenergia, Grupo São Martinho, Rede Globo, government of Bahia, Hospital das Clínicas, among others. The third edition of the MPN Forum will take place on July 12, at the WTC, in São Paulo. For more information, visit www.mpnforum.com.br