First the good news for communication service providers (CSPs). More than 90% of enterprises that are looking to deploy a private network in the next two years are considering 5G as the main technology for their deployments.
Given 5G’s rising importance, CSPs seem well-placed to become central players in the private-network space.
This was one of the findings of a new report from Light Reading sister company Omdia: 2022 Trends to Watch: Private Networks and the Shadow of 5G.
Pablo Tomasi, principal analyst of private networks in Omdia's service provider enterprise and wholesale practice – and the report’s author – nonetheless warned CSPs it won’t all be plain sailing.
While the "hype of 5G" will get CSPs in the door with enterprises, he said, they’ve still got it all to prove in terms of delivery and meeting enterprises’ expectations.
"CSPs have many challenges that they need to face to make an impact in this market," Tomasi told Light Reading. "Among others, they need to stop talking about 5G as the fix to solve all problems and start talking about addressing an enterprise pain-point with a solution based on whatever technology is more suitable."
Tomasi emphasized that CSPs should be pragmatic in their technology recommendations, whether it be private LTE or private 5G, or even an alternative technology.
"They also need to accelerate their investment in their private networks teams and decide how they want to gain vertical expertise, which is essential for targeting vertical markets," said Tomasi.
CSPs, he said, will have to weigh up the pros and cons of an in-house versus a partnership approach to build up private-network teams with the necessary know-how.
Although none of the enterprises currently surveyed by Omdia have deployed private networks to cover more than 10 sites, Tomasi thinks this will change in the next couple of years with 6% of enterprises aiming to deploy in more than 11 sites.
Enterprises currently prefer private network deployments that are fully dedicated, both in the RAN and the core, but Tomasi observes a "clear shift" in enterprises’ planning towards hybrid solutions involving a mixture of private and public networks.
"This plays directly into the hands of the CSPs that are increasingly deploying and expanding their private 5G networks," said Tomasi, "but CSPs must ride this trend carefully as their first order of business is still gaining the trust of the enterprise and of the [wider] ecosystem."
How successful CSPs might be in the private network space is not entirely in their own hands. Awarding highly localised spectrum to enterprises – a trend already seen in Germany – poses a "significant threat" to CSPs in Tomasi’s view.
"Spectrum liberalization is dangerous for [CSPs], because if providing spectrum to the enterprise works then regulators all over the world will be encouraged to continue this trend." Tomasi told Light Reading.
"This will affect how much spectrum will be available for CSPs as well as the ability for other players, such as vendors and system integrators. to directly serve enterprises’ connectivity needs."
Back in February, Omdia's Pablo Tomasi discussed his forecast for private LTE and 5G networks:
Tomasi thinks that while there will be space for both 5G private networks and 5G network slicing, the former has a firm headstart in terms of availability.
"Network slicing will not be available at scale for a few years," he said, "with current challenges including the needs for a CSP to have 5G SA and very wide and specific coverage, including good in-building coverage."
Aside from question marks over technology readiness, Tomasi flagged other potential hurdles to network-slicing.
"If an enterprise wants full control of the infrastructure, or if it does not trust the CSP with sensitive data, then it will always opt for a private network," he said.
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— Ken Wieland, contributing editor, special to Light Reading