Demand for private mobile networks based on 4G long term evolution (LTE) and 5G technologies is being driven by the increasing data, security, digitalisation and mobility requirements of modern enterprise and government entities. Several organisations are looking to combine connected systems with big data and analytics to transform operations, increase automation and efficiency or deliver new services. This is where private networks with LTE or 5G come into the picture and enable these transformations to take place even in the most dynamic, remote or highly secure environments, while offering benefits of scale.
Owing to this, private mobile networks have become a big part of the digital transformation of organisations as they include the introduction or development of cloud networking and other digital technologies such as artificial intelligence, machine learning and data analytics.
Recently, the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) released a report titled “Private Mobile Networks” that looks at the number of private networks launched across the world as of February 2023. In the report, the GSA has identified 74 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 industries, as well as on ships. The GSA has collated information about 1,077 organisations that are currently deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks.
A look at the key highlights of the report…
Players and market statistics
As per the report, there are 74 countries around the world that now have private mobile networks. The GSA states that 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 (who sometimes take responsibility for installing or operating their own infrastructure). It 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 report states that there has been an increase in the supply of equipment for private mobile networks based on LTE or 5G. In fact, the commercial availability of pre-integrated solutions from several equipment providers had increased in 2021. The report also identified over 66 telecom network operators involved with private mobile network projects. Many other types of players, such as systems integrators, consulting firms and software core vendors, are also involved in private mobile network projects although their degree of participation varies.
Meanwhile, hyperscalers are offering private mobile network solutions mostly in partnership with mobile operators or network suppliers. Their mass-scale cloud infrastructure and presence in commercial enterprises is likely to drive growth in the private mobile network market.
As per the latest data, 321 new private network customers categorised by the GSA were announced in 2022. The net growth eclipsed in the previous years, with 2021 representing 312 announcements. However, the slowdown in the number of announcements does not represent slow growth in market activity, instead it shows how existing customers are continuing to scale trials for multisite deployments.
At the end of December 2022, there were 1,077 customers deploying private mobile networks spread across 74 countries. Of these, 799 catalogued customers used LTE for deploying private mobile networks while 5G was deployed by 467, or 43 per cent, of these customers.
The proportion of 5G deployments makes up a significant number of references. This number is skewed towards long-term trials and deployments within educational and test bed or validation facilities, with a limited number running real operation in industrial situations.
GSM-R, a secure voice and data communication platform specifically for the railway sector, is being deployed by 2 per cent of these customers. Of the 321 private network customers announced in 2022, 5G was used in 56 per cent of references.
The GSA data suggests that the manufacturing sector is a strong adopter of private mobile networks in terms of customer deployments, with 198 identified manufacturing companies deploying them, up from 129 at the end of 2021. The second most common group is the education sector, with 106 customers deploying private networks, followed by mining companies with 84 deployments, and defence and peacekeeping having 75 customers deploying private networks. Power utility companies (69) and device testing and lab-as-a-service (63) round out the top five. It should be noted that a large number of device testing and lab-as-a-service references were added to this update following the discovery of a new data source.
The data shows that there are 135 discrete manufacturing customers who have deployed private networks. The automotive industry has the most customer deployments in this subcategory, followed by machinery and equipment, electrical equipment, appliances and components, and computer, electronic and optical equipment. Even though the data gives an indication of the number of customers deploying private wireless networks, it does not provide a view of the market value of each segment, neither the total number of networks deployed. In some market segments such as utilities or public protection and disaster relief, customer deployment can represent a nationwide network deployment, equivalent in value to numerous campus-style private networks.
The GSA report also tracked spectrum bands used for customer deployments, specifically assigned for local or private network purposes. Telecom regulators are also showing signs of making increased allocations of dedicated spectrum available for private mobile networks – typically small tranches in specified locations which could be acquired directly by organisations instead of by mobile operators, giving industries an alternative deployment model.
Countries such as France, the US, Germany, the UK and India have dedicated spectrums of this sort, where they reserve part of their next-generation telecom spectrum for private networks. There is usually a strong positive correlation between the number of private network references and the countries with dedicated spectrum. As of now, the US has the most customers at 141, Germany at 79, China at 51 followed by the UK and Japan at 44 and 32 respectively. Although Germany ranks second highest in terms of the number of customer references, most of these deployments are still at the test bed stage.
A large number 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, the GSA expects significant market developments in this domain in the coming years.