Is the 5G private network opportunity already over?

Ian Scales
By Ian Scales

Aug 19, 2021

via Flickr © Nathan O'Nions (CC BY 2.0)

via Flickr © Nathan O'Nions (CC BY 2.0)

  • One research firm says the 5G private network opportunity for telcos may have passed before it’s even properly started
  • ABI Research says the most recent deployment numbers are not looking good and enterprises have become disenchanted waiting for 5G capabilities that seem slow to arrive
  • As a result they are starting to look  at technology alternatives to ‘pure’ 5G

It’s not the private radio network concept that’s failing to draw enterprise crowds, but the 5G technology and business models as currently offered which tend to be expensive, complex to build and operate and slow to build.

ABI says disenchantment is already showing up as reduced private 5G activity, and it points to Germany which saw 80 private radio network applications in the second half of 2020 (admittedly as the pandemic had highlighted the importance of enterprise connectivity) but far fewer - just 20 - in the second quarter of 2021.

ABI says there’s an urgent need for the telco industry to have a rethink. It puts part of the alleged malaise down to bad marketing and urges the industry to embrace spectrum liberalization initiatives and consider flexible business models. “The telco industry must realize that the value proposition for enterprise 5G does not lie in the technology as such, but in the applications it enables.” says Leo Gergs, Senior Analyst for Private Networks and Enterprise Connectivity at ABI Research. “After all, no enterprise cares about whether they deploy 4G or 5G on their premises, as long as the technology solves their pain points.”

There seems to be a growing number of private wireless alternatives, all pointing to 5G’s apparent shortcomings, with an eye to garnering enterprise interest.

One such is Celona which says its mission is to (long story short) provide a next gen private cellular network arrangement that exploits the properties of LTE/5G - particularly its deterministic quality-of-service abilities - with the bottom-up ease of deployment which makes Wi-Fi attractive in the enterprise. This is cellular without requiring the expertise needed to set up and manage a full-blown cell network, and it is, to quote the Celona blurb, “a very different approach than that taken by the  Ericssons/Nokias of the world.” 

And more recently, Celona again, claiming 4G/5G complexity is the current private 5G enthusiasm-killer so its approach is to take the radio technologies but base the supporting wired network on existing IT technologies, like Ethernet.”

These observations and Celona’s approach chimes nicely with thoughts expressed by Rethink Research’s Caroline Gabriel in recent research paper, a review of which we published only yesterday. In it she argues that we are now entering a convergence phase in radio nets, where ‘smoother’ handover technology is ironing out the problems involved in accommodating different flavours of wireless network - most obviously between Wi-Fi and cellular.

The ousting of the rough and the arrival of the smooth is being enabled by the use of AI based techniques, she explains, and will ideally result in the end of the stark choice currently facing enterprises over which technology to choose - Quality-of-service performance (cellular tech) or economy (Wi-Fi). It will be up to telcos to adapt and incorporate the blended network technology approach in their own offerings or, as ABI Research warns, suffer the loss of of the private radio networks market. 

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