25 Jan 2021

Diversifying Telecoms: driving innovation through private networks

techUK kicked off the 2021 Diversifying Telecoms event series with an industry briefing on driving innovation in private networks. We set out to explore how the growth of these types of cellular network deployments in a diverse range of sectors and environments can inform the debate over the diversification of the telecoms supply chain, as well as encourage the adoption of disaggregated network architectures.  

Our speakers included Roger Jones, Solution Architect at Cradlepoint, who outlined 5G private networks for enterprise, proposing that the “open and flexible coexistence” of network types will be a key part of the 5G evolution, enabling seamless connectivity between private and public networks. While the evolution may be long and slow, it is still one filled with potential for many sectors.  

Public and private networks today and in the future

Julie Bradford from Real Wireless shared a helpful and insightful comparison of private and public cellular network ecosystems today, and what lies ahead for the increasing convergence of the two. As the layers of wireless solution providers and equipment vendors in both network types begin to consolidate, options such as hybrid public/private networks and network slicing will become a reality. Virtualisation will also be key in helping to drive diversification.  

Posing the question: can enterprise private networks deliver political 5G objectives? Professor William Webb provided a dose of realism, arguing that many sectors already enjoy private network benefits through WiFi. However, 5G could unlock new offerings through ultra low latency, which will eventually transform sectors. For the national MNOs, simple linkage to their networks from private deployments through access to 5G spectrum could be an option, and for diversification, further thought must be given to incentivise adoption to help bring in new suppliers.  

Diversifying demand to diversify supply

The final presentation was delivered by Dean Bubley from Disruptive Analysis, who dissected some of the goals and objectives when using supply chain diversification as different solutions to different problems. Proposing that diversifying demand for 5G infrastructure as a good way to improve diversification of supply and encourage new vendors, Dean went on to explain that 5G will be an important driver in transforming the telecoms industry itself, with numerous future options for advanced connectivity in differing contexts.  

Private networks: innovation and opportunity

During the panel discussion, our panellists discussed the impact that 5G-enabled digital devices, such as cellular laptops, will have on the growth and adoption of enterprise 5G networks, and some of the key challenges in power usage to overcome. In response to the question of what needs to be done to take advantage of the British expertise in private networks, the panellists agreed that the UK certainly has the brain power in this space, but more needs to be done to support businesses to scale, so that in the longer term the UK has multiple vendors and suppliers to support growth. Skills is also an important factor, and the UK will need more 5G enterprise specialists to support this growth. Beyond equipment, diversification of the telecoms supply chain could also be driven by the British strengths in software design, system integration, regulatory innovation and also spectrum use.  

Finally, on which sectors will make the most of the digital transformation private cellular deployments offer, our panel agreed that those sectors who will simultaneously adopt intelligent automation, harnessing the power of IoT systems – such as logistics – will most benefit. Greenfield sites are also likely to benefit from advanced connectivity options, although existing environments like ports are already trialling 5G. Further areas to explore could include the backhaul connection offered by the satellite sector for mobile networks, and the UK’s strength in the creative industries, such as filmmaking and gaming, could also stimulate demand for diversification.  

A key takeaway for the debate on diversifying the telecoms supply chain is that the innovation in how private networks are deployed, and indeed for who, will lead to increased choices for connectivity options and alternative network architectures.  

Thank you to our Cradlepoint, Real Wireless, William Webb and Dean Bubley for participating and their invaluable insight. Catch up with techUK's previous #DiversifyingTelecoms events here.  

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techUK's Communications Infrastructure Programme brings together government, the regulator, telecom companies and its stakeholders around four themes; shared infrastructure, security and resilience, unlicensed spectrum and our 5G ecosystem. We do so to lower the cost to the sector of deployment, ensure confidence in networks, spur innovation and unlock value for all parties in 5G. This is delivered through a mix of thought leadership, multilateral engagement and ecosystem building.

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Jo O'Riordan

Jo O'Riordan

Head of Spectrum Policy and Telecoms, techUK

Sophie James

Sophie James

Programme Manager, Communications Infrastructure and Services, techUK

Julia Ofori-Addo

Julia Ofori-Addo

Programme Assistant, BSG, Central Government, Financial Services Team, Comms Infrastructure, techUK