19 May 2022

The stars are far from alignment on 5G private networks

For private 5G networks to be widely deployed there needs to be demand, supply and spectrum. No spectrum means no deployment means no evidence of demand means no spectrum. 

There is much interest in private networks – wireless networks deployed, owned and operated by their users. The advent of 5G has sparked discussion as to whether private networks utilising its new capabilities might revolutionise manufacturing, healthcare, agriculture and other “verticals”. But private networks are not new - they were the only kind of networks for many decades until cellular arrived and have survived through the advent of 2G, 3G and 4G. Indeed, we all own a private network – the Wi-Fi in our homes. On that basis there may be close to 100m private networks in the UK. Understanding how many vertical 5G private networks there might be is difficult but probably less than 100,000. In the bigger picture, private networks are thriving and will continue to do so regardless of 5G. 

Will 5G result in new “high quality” private networks that might bring important benefits to verticals? 5G proponents loudly advocate radical transformation, but the results to date have been underwhelming. There have been plenty of trials sponsored by Governments and manufacturers but far less evidence of companies willing to pay for 5G networks. And 5G has a track record of loudly advocating possible uses only to discover that the users are less enthused. Even if we set this aside, there are severe problems.  

Operators do not like the idea of private 5G networks since they can no longer offer a service to the verticals, removing a new source of revenue that they had been hoping would justify their 5G investment. Key manufacturers dislike it because it allows new entrants into the market able to deliver the small-scale networks required. And most fundamentally, in many countries there is no spectrum provision for private 5G networks.  

The spectrum question is tricky.

Setting aside dedicated spectrum for private 5G networks risks having highly under-utilised spectrum in primary 5G bands, and aside from Germany, few would consider this. Providing spectrum in sub-prime bands such as 3.8-4.2GHz is tempting but if device and module availability remains limited will prevent any significant deployment. Shared spectrum access such as CBRS in the US is promising but not available to most regulators who have already licensed these frequencies. For a regulator, providing spectrum for private networks is a “brave” decision compared to the status-quo option of auctioning spectrum in a conventional manner. With little evidence that private networks will require 5G, most regulators are unlikely to take any risks. Of course, demand can only materialise after spectrum availability so the “wait for evidence” approach is destinated to fail to deliver private 5G. Examples from history, such as TV white space, suggest that regulators will not move quickly to make spectrum available for private networks and that will significantly hamper the development of any solutions. 

As discussed at the start, private networks will thrive. Verticals will continue to deploy Wi-Fi based solutions, proprietary systems and will occasionally reach agreements with mobile operators to use public 5G. There are many stars that need to align for private 5G networks to become a significant part of this. Few of them are even close to alignment. 

Private Networks User Guides & podcast

Private networks: a new user guide by techUK

Our #techUKPrivateNetworks campaign week celebrated the publication of a new user guide techUK has produced, to help prospective private networks customers, across enterprise and the public sector, understand the key benefits of adopting advanced connectivity in their organisations. The guide helps users as they formulate a business case for investing in enhanced private networks, and the key success factors. We also shine a spotlight on several case studies. 

Private networks: a techUK user guide

Gain a clear understanding of the benefits of adopting private network technology for your business with this techUK user guide.

Download for free

Private network ecosystem: Management model - A new techUK guide

techUK's Advanced Communications Services Working Group created a new guide for organisations considering building out services using 5G networking technology entitled 'Private network ecosystem: Management model'

It introduces and describes the principles of neutral hosts, and then goes on to describe the architecture and ecosystem which supports the provision of shared services, particularly in the context of high capacity/low latency applications, which will drive 5G deployment. While this paper is focussed on 5G, many of the principles of neutral hosts, and the discussion of edge versus core provision will apply to other technologies such as Wi-Fi, including Wi-Fi 6.

Private network ecosystem: Management model

A technical guide by techUK for users of private networks, outlining how the ecosystem is managed. It outlines the architecture of edge native applications in the architecture of the ecosystem, the value chain and operating models, resilience, operations, and the role of Neutral Hosts. 

Download for free


The techUK podcast: Making the case for Private Networks

In this episode of the techUK podcast, we explore the topic of private networks for enterprise, specifically, how we can accelerate the deployment of private networks from beyond the testbed phase and drive adoption across industry and the public sector.  

The episode covers the key challenges for enterprise customers that the telecoms sector can address with advanced connectivity services, including 5G and Wi-Fi 6, and how we, the supplier base, can effectively deliver on the benefits of private networks. 

Sophie James, Head of Telecoms and Spectrum Policy at techUK, joins a conversation with Simon Parry, CTO at Nokia EnterpriseCatherine Gull, Consultant at Cellnex and Dez O’Connor, Senior Manager at Cisco. Sophie also catches up with Mike Kennett, Senior Consultant & Head of Regulatory Affairs at Freshwave



Guest blog by William Webb, Chief Technology Officer, Access Partnership — Follow Access Partnership on Twitter and LinkedIn

To read more from the Future Private Networks campaign week check out our landing page here