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…

Market players

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.

Customer statistics

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.

Spectrum bands

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.

In sum

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.