Private Cellular Networking – why operators should act now

Cellular Networking

Companies have started to enter the private cellular networking market, and not one of them is a telco.

This should prompt telcos and operators that may currently be preoccupied with eMBB (enhanced Mobile Broadband) at the expense of enterprise and industrial use cases. Other players are now attempting to become the enterprises’ new partner, so operators cannot be complacent.

Last week, network planning specialists Vilicom, launched a partnership with cloud native networking provider Mavenir. The collaboration will focus on Connectivity-as-a-Service (CaaS). Using Mavenir’s vRAN platform, Vilicom is able to create and install an operator-agnostic indoor network, which can be 4G or 5G.

Initially, the project is being aimed at property developers, landlords and business – basically, places that are visited by the public, suggesting that they are targeting coverage in more traditional venues. Yet, given the rising demand for private cellular networking, it would be reasonable to assume that Vilicom and Mavenir could take CaasS in such a direction. The reason is that, these places are more than likely staffed and have various operational processes and systems in place that could benefit from a private network. This, and one of Vilicom’s areas of business is surprisingly named, Private Cellular Networking.

Operators “will also benefit from this product, since we believe it will allow them to densify the deployment of network coverage and capacity, where it is most needed: the indoors,” said Vilicom CEO Sean Keating.

Although this is somewhat true, it sidelines the operator, to having a relatively minor role. Operators ideally want to be the ones holding the enterprise’s hand and leading them into the future. This is indeed going to be tricky if they allow someone else to do the handholding.

One-click networking

Perhaps even more worrying for operators is that they aren’t even required for their spectrum allocation. Federated Wireless offers services over shared CBRS-band spectrum and on Tuesday launched, Connectivity-as-a-Service. This is a private cellular network which can either be 4G or 5G. It is sold to enterprises through Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azures respective cloud marketplaces.

This means that a customer on AWS and Microsoft Azure, can add a private mobile network to their shopping card with just one click and then go directly to the checkout.

In an online blog post, CEO of Federated Wireless, Iyad Tarazi says “We take care of the installation, operation and management, delivering high performance, reliable five 9’s connectivity, No more complexity, no large number of components and vendors, no complicated integration processes with other networks and no big outlay for hardware and other equipment.”

A more direct way of putting it, is to say that an enterprise can have its own mobile network without having to actually deal with a mobile operator.

Japan joins the private party

Fujitsu in Japan announced that it has secured Japan’s first private 5G license, which it will test out at its Shin-Kawasaki Technology Square office in Kawasaki. In spring, the company plans to open the Fujitsu Collaboration Lab, where it will work with customers and partners to design and test new private 5G use cases.

Moving forward, Fujitsu will continue to apply for private 5G licenses for its other office locations, plants, and group companies in Japan, offering support for customers in various industries to achieve their own digital transformation projects to deliver new value and business innovations,” Fujitsu said.

The issue in Japan is that once they finally get their 5G networks up and running, they would have missed out on a substantial amount of private networking opportunities. Because Japan is already far behind in their implementation of 5G, the government has already started working on 6G to avoid making the same mistakes.

The private network marker is quite a sizeable one. ABI research thinks that private LTE will become a $16.3 billion market by 2025.

Belgian telecom company, Proximus, are one step ahead, and their recent deal with the Port of Antwerp has demonstrated how much of an opportunity the ports and harbours market alone is for private networking.

It is reasonable to think therefore, that traditional mobile operators will still be able to grab a big slice of the private cellular networking market, even with the likes of Federated Wireless and Vilicom arriving on the scene. Nonetheless, they are once again, at risk of being overlooked by a large swathe of potential customers and companies like Vilicom, looking to expand their services.