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The three flavors of private 5G network providers

Oct. 6, 2022
The goal is bringing clarity to confusion in a fast-moving market.

By Brian Watkins, EVP of business strategy with Betacom

With the private 5G network market accelerating quickly and with the numbers and types of companies entering the market expanding each day, we now face the inevitable confusion that results when a new space grows so quickly. While it seems that the benefits of private 5G are increasingly well-understood at a high level, (especially in manufacturing, transportation and warehousing), questions persist about responsibilities for the design, deployment and management of these networks. Similarly, questions remain about engaging with vendors for 5G campaigns and the various categories of 5G solutions. 

With this in mind, we sat down to map out and deliver a short, clear list that both defines the different types of providers and provides examples for the participants in each. We believe that the market can be broken into three distinct groups, including:  

  • Mobile network operators—Mobile network operators, or carriers, offer private network services to large businesses, but retain control of the enterprise data. This model is often used by large businesses that have a vast portfolio of network assets. In this instance, the carrier charges for data usage and is usually most effective when it connects people with a limited number of things, such as printers and servers, and not in connecting the wider Industrial Internet of Things, such as security cameras and other sensors, largely due to cost. In the US, this category includes Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile.
  • Private wireless providers—Private wireless providers specialize in delivering private networks. Generally speaking, they offer an end-to-end, turnkey, managed service, including network design, installation and ongoing security and operations monitoring and management. They run the private network for the customer behind the enterprise firewall. The enterprise maintains control and ownership of its data, and has unlimited data usage, as the network is made possible through CBRS shared spectrum (using either GAA or PAL licenses). In this scenario, the provider enables enterprise control of the data affordably, and with maximum security. Betacom, CTS, Boingo, Kajeet, WWT and Accenture are in this category in the US. 
  • OEMs (software/hardware vendors)—OEM vendors deliver the components of a private networking solution, such as the radios (RAN) and the mobile core, but they do not provide an end-to-end service. In this model, the enterprise customer builds, monitors and manages its network, and is also responsible for procuring spectrum to enable the network. This model suits organizations that have staffs large and knowledgeable enough to support ongoing network operations and management. In the US, this category includes vendors such as Cisco, Celona, JMA Wireless, Nokia and Ericsson.

How these groups will work separately, together and even consolidate over time is yet to be seen, but this much is certain—more vendors will enter the market. With the FCC having sold 20,625 PAL licenses in the 2020 CBRS spectrum auction, and companies including NTT estimating that more than 80% of CIOs plan deployment of private 5G within the coming years, keeping track of who does what in private 5G will require persistent attention. We hope that the categorization above serves as a good starting point and clearly defines how each category benefits the global enterprise.