For an organization to operate a private mobile network, it needs spectrum. So, what are the choices? And what does spectrum tell us about the technology, industry structure and business models that will underpin this market?
In simple terms, there are three major options for private network spectrum:
Access to spectrum is one of the keys to unlocking the private networking market. The ability to deploy private networks without dependencies on public cellular systems or licensed operators gives enterprises greater ability to control their operations and removes friction from the market. Both unlicensed spectrum and so-called "enterprise spectrum" offer this advantage.
Dedicated enterprise spectrum offers protected use and is therefore interesting to organizations with demanding reliability and availability requirements. This applies particularly to industrial IoT applications, but also to any organization wanting to run production-critical systems with minimal risk of downtime. In a follow-up blog, I'll discuss activity in this area, and address the pros and cons of "enterprise spectrum," in more depth. For now, suffice to say that in many advanced economies, spectrum regulators are already moving to enable this market.
Unlicensed spectrum is, by design, easy to access and widely available. This is traded against the possibility that neighbors can interfere, making some organizations reluctant to rely on unlicensed for production-critical networks. Interestingly, simulations show 5G radio innovations such as Coordinated MultiPoint (CoMP), combined with good network design, can be used to achieve consistent, highly reliable performance in shared frequency bands. In the medium term, extending into 6GHz offers the potential to introduce synchronized sharing to unlicensed spectrum to significantly improve efficiency and reliability where there are multiple users.
Dedicated and unlicensed spectrum does not, however, mean there is no room for operators in this market. Heavy Reading believes spectrum will, in many cases, be decoupled from the decision about who designs, operates and maintains private networks. Already there is evidence that operators themselves see opportunities in dedicated enterprise spectrum, and several are preparing to offer managed private networks in these bands. There is also, of course, a very large market for wide-area and multi-site services that operators can offer alongside on-campus private network services.
— Gabriel Brown, Principal Analyst, Mobile Networks & 5G, Heavy Reading