5 Trends Driving Demand for Private 5G Networks
Private 5G networks and dedicated cellular networks are not new. But they hit a critical turning point in 2022, with 100s or perhaps even over 1,000 deployments for a variety of applications on in enterprise communications on enterprise campuses, industrial sites, as well as local fixed-wireless use.
All this activity shows that deployments are beginning to move beyond proof-of-concept and trials. They represent full-scale production usage in a range of verticals, from oil and gas to mining, and ports to defense.
The increase in deployments in 2022 was driven by five key underlying trends that will continue to create more demand for private 5G networks and wireless cellular networks in 2023. These trends are further explored in iBwave’s latest e-book, written by Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis: Top Trends in Private Networks for 2023.
With increasing demand, there will be a corresponding need for software tools that enable accurate and cost-effective design of the coverage needed to take advantage of all the benefits a private network offers.
Transition From 4G to 5G
The first underlying trend is an increasing shift by enterprises from 4G to 5G. Until recently, a variety of factors such as fragmentation of 5G bands and limited product and application availability have given 4G a competitive advantage over 5G.
But this is changing for a variety of reasons, including:
- An increasing availability of 5G bands from regulatory authorities
- Multiple vendors offering 5G SA cores
- More offerings of 5G SA networks from MNOs
Switching Is Easier and More Enticing
There are also strategic shifts happening that are making it easier and more enticing for enterprises to make the switch to 5G:
- Regulatory and spectrum-management teams in most MNOs are becoming more agile at handling localized allocations, which allows them to find unused frequencies that can be put to use in dedicated systems.
- The device ecosystem is adopting 5G more broadly, increasing the range of offerings, while support is also increasing for 5G SA mode and a greater range of frequency options.
- The emerging 5G Reduced Capability (RedCap) option, which optimizes 5G for lower cost IoT modules, is increasing the number of enterprises that can successfully adopt 5G.
- Industry groups such as the CBRS Alliance are starting to certify 5G solutions, opening the market to a broader set of integrators.
Powerful mmWave Capability for Private 5G Networks
A second trend driving demand for private networks is that the potential uses of high-band or mmWave frequencies for private network applications is now being recognized.
There are numerous advantages to using mmWave and, as the private 5G market continues to mature, existing MNOs with mmWave allocations are beginning to look more closely at enterprise use cases. Some national regulators are also allowing direct access for businesses and system integrators.
Underused mmWave Spectrum Is Open for Allocation
The key advantages provided by mmWave for private network applications include:
- More available spectrum than in mid-range bands, allowing for higher throughputs with peak speeds in the multi-Gbps range
- Lower existing allocations in the mmWave range make allocations there less politically contentious, particularly for countries with several competing MNOs
- True ultra-low latency deployments are easier, as there’s no need for the technical restrictions used in the mid-band to allow for more users
- Frequencies can be allocated without impacting macro networks
- Private network capabilities can easily be added to neutral-host indoor mmWave infrastructure, enabling one network of small cells to support multiple public networks
- Increased interest from network and semiconductor vendors to find alternative markets given 5G’s short range
- The maturing market is making it easier to engineer enhanced mmWave coverage
More Full-Scale Deployment
The third key trend driving demand for private networks is a transition from proof-of-concept deployments to large-scale deployments.
The move from small-scale, low-risk trials of a new and promising technology to commercial adoption has, historically, been a difficult hurdle for enterprises. Technology challenges tend to slow adoption rates. But, as those challenges are addressed, stakeholders and decision-makers tend to still be cautious about taking on potentially risky network deployments.
Maturing Ecosystem Increasing Confidence in Private 5G Networks for Enterprise Communications
However, decision-makers have more to work with today than they did before when considering full-scale deployments of private 5G networks:
- Features are maturing, providing enterprises greater confidence in key network characteristics, such as quality, low-latency, and positioning accuracy.
- More case studies, ROI models, and documentation have created greater confidence that the risks and value can be better known in advance.
- A wider pool of talent is available to deploy and manage private 5G networks than ever before.
- More deployment template models reduce the need for bespoke solutions, which can be comparatively complex and unpredictable.
- New models for financing and commercialization like pay-as-you-grow cloud models reduce risk and enhance scalability.
- A growing awareness and trust of private 4G and 5G is encouraging more enterprises to build on experimental deployments.
Growth of Private 5G Networks for Public Venues
There is mounting evidence that private wireless can add value in public venues. As a result, private cellular is beginning to gain more ground for these types of deployments.
This fourth trend is being driven by the:
- Identification of specific niches and use cases where private networks can add value, such as in revenue-generating or safety-critical applications that need to be ring-fenced to avoid congestion from public Wi-Fi
- Reduction of cost and complexity involved in deploying private cellular 4G and 5G networks
- Growing awareness and trust of private 4G/5G among enterprise end users
- Expansion of the ecosystem, which is enabling additional vertical applications, more support from service providers, and greater access to planning and design tools
- Growing adoption of private cellular wireless by public venues in outdoor settings where Wi-Fi struggles
- Increasing adoption of DAS-type systems that allow private networks to be deployed as secondary or add-ons to neutral-host platforms
Combining Wi-Fi and 5G in Private Networks
The final trend driving demand for private networks is related to the ongoing conversation about network convergence.
There is an increasing interest in integrating or converging private 4G/5G with Wi-Fi, given that many enterprise sites need both technologies. The greatest advantage of convergence appears to be partitioning, which allows for deployments that:
- Isolate traffic and ring-fence domains, allowing each technology to handle the task it is most suited or most needed for
- Backhaul from Wi-Fi to a private cellular wireless 4G/5G network, which can be a very useful asset, particularly where running fiber is unfeasible
- Dedicate cellular networks for fixed-wireless access and use Wi-Fi for final device connectivity in education, healthcare, and for local government agencies
- Enable connectivity handovers between networks using private 5G as a bridge for Wi-Fi-connected devices, creating seamless connectivity in campus-type settings
Additionally, the maturing ecosystem is making the integration of both networking technologies easier with:
- More IoT devices capable of handling 4G, 5G, and/or Wi-Fi, and that can load-balance between multiple radios
- The ability to offload public 5G onto private wireless cellular networks and Wi-Fi, particularly inside buildings, for devices from different MNOs or different classes of device
- Tools that combine planning, design, operations, and security capabilities and cover multiple network types
Private 5G Networks Going From Cutting-Edge to Commonplace
When it comes to the realities of deploying a private 5G network, survey and design are critical considerations. Ensuring these networks deliver on their intended value ultimately comes down to the survey and design process. A seamless deployment of an inaccurate network is, in the end, an efficient way to implement an inefficient network.
iBwave offers a variety of flexible, modular tools for survey and design to ensure your enterprise has everything it needs to efficiently build accurate and effective private networks.
For more details on how changing trends and technology are driving the growth of private wireless worldwide, check out iBwave’s latest e-book, written by Dean Bubley of Disruptive Analysis: Top Trends in Private Networks for 2023.
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