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What does the future hold for private wireless networks?

This article recaps how 5G private enabled networks deliver value to the digital transformation and IIoT journey, looks at how the private network space is developing, and considers where it could go next.

Wayne Eng
Global Head of Market Strategy - Datacom & Telecom

5 min.
Photo of abstract network security technology vector

In a January 2021 blog1, I wrote “with dynamic and new technologies emerging every day, the accelerated adoption of 5G private enabled networks is ideally poised to become the ‘new normal’ for today’s best-in-class enterprise”.

While 5G private networks have not grown as quickly as predicted, I believe that statement still holds true.

Digital transformation and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) are still driving business needs for faster, higher capacity, more robust and secure wireless connectivity everywhere, from factory floors, to transport trucks and beyond.

This creates a great use case for 5G in the enterprise. In 2021 the thought was that 5G would enable faster deployment and accelerate enterprise private networks; two years on, it’s a good time to reassess where we are.

Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE still play a key role in private networks. 5G remains a potential game-changer, with its unparalleled capacity, speed, mobility capability and security. Services such as Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) are offering greater potential to leverage shared spectrum for private network deployment.

This article recaps how 5G private enabled networks deliver value to the digital transformation and IIoT journey, looks at how the private network space is developing, and considers where it could go next.

This is an image of digital 5G earth representing connectivity worldwide

How 5G private enabled networks power the digital enterprise

The truly digital enterprise is fully connected. Every actor, in every process, is plugged into the flow of data, information and intelligence that optimizes that process.

Delivering that connection wherever it is needed, quickly, reliably and securely, is a fundamental requirement. 

5G networks offer unparalleled connectivity capabilities, with 

  • Ultra-high speed and capacity
  • Consistent signal strength
  • Inherently secure design
  • More efficient, reliable coverage than Wi-Fi, particularly in remote outdoor and industrial areas, 
  • Seamless integration with public 5G networks, using dual SIMs

These capabilities enable a host of digital and IIoT applications - 

A 2022 article highlights how a digital business using autonomous vehicles for last-mile delivery can rely on a 5G private enabled network to deliver the low network latency, high speed, reliable connectivity and security essential to safe and efficient operation.

A Cap Gemini insight, also from 2022, argues a growing need for 5G private networks in manufacturing plants, to deliver “autonomous networks with interconnected sensors and actuators, and for greater collaboration to improve productivity without the need for human intervention”.

This is IOT vector image with webs connecting each piece together

Will 5G replace Wi-Fi?

The consensus amongst industry-watchers is that 5G will not replace Wi-Fi in the foreseeable future. Instead, the two technologies will continue to fulfil complementary roles in the enterprise wireless network. 

For example, office staff can continue to move seamlessly between remote VPN and fast, high-capacity Wi-Fi in the office and enterprise environment, while the remote and corporate IoT devices can connect over the 5G private network.

What has been happening in the private networks space since 2021?

Innovation in wireless network technologies and services has been continuing at pace since 2021 

5G saw the 2021 launch of 3GPP Release 18, as reported by RCR Wireless2, marking another step in the journey towards 5G-Advanced, and evolving 5G to cater for ever-more demanding applications.

Release 18 brings in Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) capabilities to manage the complexities of multi-antenna, multi-waveband, multi-tenant networks, offering a smoother, richer experience, increasing efficiency and driving down power consumption.

Wi-Fi 6 and 6E are opening up the 6Ghz band, increasing speed, capacity and number of concurrent devices. Wi-Fi 7 is set to go further, with wider date channels increasing capacity, reduced latency and more connections. 

A series of articles from consultants STL Partners3 highlight how CBRS is developing as a successful experiment in spectrum-sharing that offers the potential for enterprises to create private 5G network capability with minimal investment and complexity.

The private wireless network sector has faced many of the same supply chain and geopolitical headwinds as other industries and technologies, reflected in slower than forecast growth in areas such as Radio Area Network (RAN) components, as reported in a 2023 Dell‘oro Group report.4

Technological inertia is also a factor, as risk aversion and investment constraints in the enterprise hold back full adoption.

Where next for private wireless networks?

The current trajectory of private networks growth suggests many enterprises will continue to leverage and incrementally develop their existing Wi-Fi and 4G/LTE capabilities. 

More businesses are likely to invest in private 5G networks as proofs of concept or as point solutions, where the business requirement demands 5G’s capacity, speed, robustness and security. 

We can expect growing demands for digital and IIoT connectivity to combine with the maturing 5G technology market, and movement of managed services like CBRS into the mainstream. This will ultimately create a tipping point at which accelerated 5G private network deployment becomes the ‘new normal’ for best-in-class enterprises, as part of an integrated wireless connectivity architecture. 

Enterprises looking to position themselves for this change can usefully

Run added-value proofs of concept. Focus trials where 5G adds specific business value, and use them to understand the technology, what it can do, and how it can work with other connectivity solutions like Wi-Fi.

Leverage services like CBRS – Spectrum-sharing services offer the potential to start developing 5G private networks without heavy investment in infrastructure and expertise. 

Evolve 5G private networks as part of a wider connectivity strategy – 5G and Wi-Fi both have a key role to play in connecting the digital business. 5G can be evolved alongside existing Wi-Fi capability, with each deployed where they add most value, while growing AI and ML network management capabilities facilitate seamless integration.

What next?

I am interested to hear your thoughts on the future of wireless private networks - reach out to me on LinkedIn, where I’ll be glad to continue the conversation.

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