The demand for private mobile networks based on 4G long term evolution (LTE) and 5G technologies is being driven by the surge in data, security, digitisation and enterprise mobility requirements of modern business and government entities. Organisations of all types are combining connected systems with big data and analytics to transform operations, increase automation and efficiency, and deliver new services.
Wireless networking with LTE or 5G enables these transformations even in the most dynamic, remote or highly secure environments. Private mobile networks are often part of a broader digital transformation programme. This could include the introduction or development of cloud networking and other digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics. More and more applications of the private mobile network will use these capabilities combined with mobile connectivity.
The Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) defines a private mobile network as a 3GPP-based 4G LTE or 5G network intended for the sole use of private entities such as enterprises, industries and governments. The latest edition of the Private Mobile Networks report by GSA has identified 70 countries and territories where customers have deployed private networks based on LTE or 5G. In addition, there are private mobile network installations in various offshore locations serving the oil and gas and shipping industries. GSA has collated information about 889 organisations known to be deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks.
A look at the key highlights of the report…
The private mobile network market is home to a wide range of service providers, including equipment and technology suppliers, mobile network operators, system integrators and private network end-users. GSA has counted over 50 equipment vendors that have been involved in the supply of equipment for private mobile networks based on LTE or 5G. The commercial availability of pre-integrated solutions from several equipment providers increased in 2021. These solutions aim to simplify the adoption of private networks. In addition, GSA has identified more than 66 telecom network operators involved in private mobile network projects. Global-scale cloud providers, often referred to as hyperscalers, are offering private mobile network solutions, sometimes in partnership with mobile operators or network suppliers. Their ability to exploit mass-scale cloud infrastructure and their existing presence in commercial enterprises are likely to drive additional growth in the private mobile network market.
The latest data by GSA shows that 140 new private network customers categorised by GSA were announced in the first half of 2022. Customer announcements grew to 293 from 2016 to 2021 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 101 per cent. Further, GSA categorised 889 customers across 70 countries deploying private mobile networks at the end of June 2022. Of the total catalogued customers deploying private mobile networks, LTE is used in 672 while 5G is being deployed in 354, or 39.8 per cent, of these customers. Although the proportion of 5G deployments makes up a significant number of references, it must be noted that this number skews towards long-term expensive trials and deployments within educational and test bed or validation facilities, with a limited number running in industrial situations.
Meanwhile, the global system for mobile communications – railway (GSM-R), a secure voice and data communication platform specifically for the railway industry, is being deployed in 2 per cent of these customers. 5G was used in 50 per cent of the 140 private network customers announced in 2022.
GSA has also categorised the total number of LTE or 5G customer deployments by country. As per the latest data, the US currently has the largest number of customers at 109, while Germany (77), China (43) and the UK (39) seem to be increasing their rates of customer deployments. Japan rounds out the top five in the list with 27 customers, while Finland follows closely behind with 21 customers.
In addition to companies looking to deploy their own private mobile network for the first time, there is a large group of potential customers that currently operate private networks based on technologies such as TErrestrial Trunked RAdio (TETRA), Project 25 (P25), digital mobile radio, GSM-R and Wi-Fi. Many of these customers are demanding critical broadband services that are simply not available from alternative technologies. So private mobile networks based on LTE and 5G could eventually replace much of this market.
Adoption trends by vertical
GSA Data suggests that the manufacturing sector is a strong adopter of private mobile networks in terms of number of customer deployments, with 165 identified companies, up from 111 at the end of 2021. The education sector is the second most common group, with 95 customers deploying private networks, followed by mining companies with 74 and power utility companies with 71 customers. Also, defence and peacekeeping and nationwide rail organisations round out the top five in the list with 53 and 40 customers respectively.
The report provides a further breakdown of the manufacturing sector, separated into process and discrete with subcategories. GSA data shows that there are 90 discrete manufacturing customers deploying private networks, as compared to 45 process manufacturing customers, with an additional 30 to be confirmed. Of the subcategories, automotive has the most customer deployments followed by machinery and equipment, electrical equipment, appliances and components, and multiple product types.
The GSA report also tracks the spectrum bands being used for customer deployments assigned specifically for local or private network purposes. Including known spectrum assignments and customer deployments, C-band spectrum is the most widely assigned. This is followed by citizens broadband radio service (CBRS) spectrum, which is also technically within the C-band but split out owing to the way it has been assigned in the US.
Telecom regulators are also showing signs of increased allocations of dedicated spectrum available for private mobile networks, typically small tranches in specified locations. This could be acquired directly by organisations instead of mobile operators, giving industries an alternative deployment model. Dedicated spectrum of this sort has already been allocated in France, the US, Germany, the UK and India, which recently stated it would reserve part of its next-generation telecom spectrum for private networks. There is typically a strong, positive correlation between the number of private network references and countries with dedicated spectrum. GSA expects this trend to be followed in other countries in 2022.
Although the US does have dedicated spectrum for private mobile networks through the CBRS band, priority access licensees and general authorised access licensees must accept priority for incumbent access users along exclusion zones that cover much of the US coastline.
Private mobile networks are expected to play a significant role in future wireless technologies for enterprise on-premises connectivity. The arrival of LTE-Advanced systems delivered a step change in network capacity and throughput, while 5G networks have brought improved density, even greater capacity, as well as dramatic improvements to latency that enable the use of mobile technology for time-critical applications. A large number and wide range of market participants are actively engaged in developing and delivering solutions for private mobile networks. With so much opportunity, and so many regulators planning initiatives to make spectrum available for LTE and 5G private usage, GSA expects significant market developments over the next couple of years.