LTE still dominates in private mobile networks but BT bucks the trend

Private mobile networks are growing in popularity globally, but perhaps surprisingly, LTE – and not 5G – is still the dominant underlying technology.

However, the use of 5G for private networks is growing, according to new data from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA). And in the UK we have evidence of that point, with BT and Ericsson this week inking a deal to provide a private 5G network for the Port of Tyne.

There are now at least 794 organisations worldwide deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks, the GSA reports, admitting that tracking rollouts can be tricky because they are often not made public. 603 of those organisations – or 76% – are using LTE, although some of those are also using 5G technology. In total, 5G is present in 37% of deployments (see chart).

“Although the proportion of 5G deployments makes up a significant number of references, it must be noted that this number skews toward long-term expensive trials and deployments within educational and test-bed or validation facilities, with a limited number running real operation in industrial situations,” the GSA notes. So we’re not quite there with 5G yet.

There are some encouraging signs though. The big vendors in particular are increasingly making private 5G networking announcements; just last month, for example, it emerged that T-Mobile US is working with Nokia, Ericsson and Dell to help it capture the enterprise services opportunity in 5G, including private networking.

And this week the Port of Tyne, a deep sea port in the north east of England, revealed that it has contracted BT to install a new 5G private network and related technology. According to a release published by Connect-World, BT will serve as the Port of Tyne’s technology partner and will use Ericsson equipment to build the network, which is slated to go live later this year. The deal builds on a multi-million-pound partnership – to use the partners’ own words – announced by BT and Ericsson last month, which is designed to help the pair provide commercial private 5G networks throughout the UK in sectors such as manufacturing, defence, education, healthcare, logistics and so forth.

At the time the pair noted that they have already worked together on a number of major private 5G contracts, including a rollout at Belfast Harbour in Northern Ireland, which saw them deploy infrastructure over 35 acres of operational port.

It seems the next port deal wasn’t too far away. And that’s good news for both BT and telecoms operators in general, who have faced a lot of questions in recent years over whether they are allowing the 5G enterprise opportunity to pass them by.

The GSA report notes that there are more than 70 telecoms network operators globally now involved with private mobile network projects.

However, the telcos are certainly not having it all their own way, with the hyperscalers also getting in on the act, sometimes in partnership with operators and equipment makers. “Their ability to exploit mass-scale cloud infrastructure and their existing presence in commercial enterprises is likely to drive additional growth in the private mobile network market,” the GSA predicts.

“The Private Mobile Networks market is a substantial ecosystem where organisations are collaborating with vendors to make Private Networks a reality,” added GSA president Joe Barrett. “Currently we are tracking over 50 equipment vendors that have been involved in the supply of equipment for Private Mobile Networks based on LTE or 5G,” he said.

Further, the organisation notes that there was an increase in commercial availability of pre-integrated solutions from a number of equipment makers last year. These solutions are designed to simplify adoption of private networks, which should help to drive growth.

Overall, private mobile networks are becoming big business.

“With this ecosystem now in place, with so many opportunities, and so many regulators planning initiatives to make spectrum available for LTE and 5G private usage, we expect significant market developments over the next couple of years,” Barrett said.


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