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A battle royale is forming in private wireless networking

In video gaming, a "battle royale" is a competition where dozens of players compete directly against each other, and the last competitor standing wins. Think PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds or Fortnite. The term traces its modern origins to the 2000 Japanese film Battle Royale, in which junior high school students fight to the death. It's a plot familiar to anyone who has watched the Hunger Games movies or read the books.

In any battle royale, alliances among weaker players invariably form for protection against dominant players. Over the course of the game, tides may shift. But ultimately only one player will emerge the victor. "Winner winner chicken dinner!" proclaims PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds upon each game's conclusion.

As the private wireless networking space slowly matures, it's clearly taking on the contours of a battle royale in the truest sense. Here's a sampling of the players and their backgrounds:

  • Mobile network operators like Verizon and AT&T. Indeed, Verizon just this week unveiled its commercial 5G private wireless product under the "On Site 5G" brand.
  • Cloud computing companies like Google and Amazon. For example, both companies have been hiring networking executives in their explicit pursuit of the private wireless networking opportunity.
  • Mobile network equipment suppliers like Ericsson and Nokia. Ericsson, for its part, recently announced the private wireless networking space is so important it decided to overhaul its strategy and sell its products directly to enterprises rather than going through its traditional mobile network operator customers.
  • Startups like Betacom and Celona. Such companies have been raising millions of dollars in funding in their drive into the space.
  • Industrial equipment providers like Siemens and Honeywell. Indeed, Siemens is now selling its first industrial 5G router that it developed for its own private wireless network.
  • Traditional enterprise networking suppliers like Cisco and Motorola Solutions. Cisco, for its part, is working with the US military on private wireless networking installations.

"Things are changing. So this is where the different players are trying to obtain a foothold in the opportunity they see," analyst Kyung Mun, with Mobile Experts, told Light Reading.

Mun explained that enterprises across a variety of industries have been working to bring their operations into the digital age. Those efforts have included embracing electronic services and moving those functions into the cloud – the result involves getting everything online "as a service."

"All these requirements are leaning toward 5G," Mun said, noting that enterprises moving along the digitization path are looking for ways to do so quickly, securely and seamlessly – technologies at the forefront of the telecom industry's shift from 4G to 5G.

"All these things are kind of merging together," he said.

Analyst John Byrne with GlobalData agrees. He told Light Reading that the Internet of Things (IoT) – a concept that never truly matured in the enterprise space – has now transformed into a discussion of private wireless networking.

"This could be a vehicle for not just communications but what IoT morphs into," he said.

And which players in the battle royale of private wireless networking are in the dominant position today? According to Byrne, it's the cloud computing companies like Amazon, Google and Microsoft. "They have all the enterprise relationships because of everyone moving to the cloud," he explained. "They're the ones to watch."

Those companies are leading partly because they've been able to meet the enterprise opportunity head-on. "They've proven themselves to be much more friendly to enterprise than the network operators have been able to," Byrne noted.

And that's what makes these early days of the competition so interesting. After all, network operators like Verizon are increasingly teaming up with cloud computing providers like AWS in areas like edge computing.

"It's sort of a classic 'coopetition' situation," Byrne said. "No one knows who their enemies are or who their friends are."

As the private wireless networking space matures – a situation highlighted by a growing number of commercial deployments – competition will undoubtedly heat up.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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