Private LTE/5G network providers: An overview​

Private LTE and 5G networks are becoming increasingly adopted by enterprises to support business operations, offering reliable connectivity and security tailored to specific needs. These networks enable industries to deploy advanced digital solutions, ensuring enhanced productivity, safety, and operational efficiency. This article explores the lifecycle of private LTE/5G networks and the different types of solution providers involved in their deployment and management.

Private LTE/5G network lifecycle

The lifecycle of a private LTE/5G network involves multiple stages: design, deployment, and operation. It starts with defining business goals, designing a high-level network, and testing industrial devices. Deployment includes installing and integrating network components, followed by the ongoing operation phase involving maintenance and optimisation. Stakeholders from various sectors contribute to this lifecycle, ensuring the network’s success. This article explores the different types of private network solution providers and the roles they play in the ecosystem.

Traditional mobile network operators (MNOs)

Private networks come as a natural extension of the public networks for MNOs, leveraging their extensive expertise in mobile network planning and operations. Leading telcos such as AT&T, Vodafone, Telefónica are already offering private network solutions to their customers, with some, like Verizon, exploring opportunities beyond their primary markets. These major global carriers possess several advantages, including in-house expertise in mobile networks, access to necessary hardware, and the scale required to support large enterprises. Additionally, telcos can lease spectrum and utilise their public network coverage to facilitate roaming applications, providing seamless connectivity for businesses.

Despite their strengths in deploying and managing large-scale networks, telcos face challenges such as limited experience with operational technology (OT) and insufficient connections to software and app developers. The traditional business model of telcos is also disrupted as countries like the UK, Germany, the US, and Japan start licensing spectrum directly to enterprises.

To remain competitive, they must build a robust local presence and secure the resources needed to support large-scale operations. They are also forming partnerships with other stakeholders such as hyperscalers to expand their reach and target different segments of the market including small and medium enterprises (SEMs) .

Original equipment manufacturers (OEMs)

OEMs are some of the first movers in the private networks market, major network equipment manufacturers like Ericsson, Nokia, and Samsung have been at the forefront of the private networks market, leveraging their extensive experience and technological prowess to dominate the industry.

Ericsson and Nokia, in particular, have capitalised on their first-mover advantage, focusing on delivering independent, standalone private network solutions tailored to enterprise needs. These traditional connectivity giants have not only provided the bulk of private network solutions but have also fostered partnerships with smaller network hardware and software vendors, such as small cell, core, and OSS/BSS providers. Companies like, Baicells, and CommScope have collaborated with these NEPs to enhance their private network offerings.

Multinational organisations often prefer NEPs with a global footprint, such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Samsung, which have significant presences in Europe and North America, while Huawei and ZTE dominate the China and Asia-Pacific regions. Despite the stronghold of these established NEPs, new entrants are emerging, bringing innovative solutions and fresh commercial models, thereby adding competitive dynamism to the market.

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Hyperscalers

Hyperscalers like AWS and Microsoft leverage their cloud and edge computing solutions to offer rapid deployment and scalability of private networks. These providers integrate private network offerings with their cloud services, enabling businesses to leverage advanced computing and storage capabilities for enhanced network performance and flexibility. They offer solutions like AWS Private 5G and Marketplace, and Microsoft’s Azure Private 5G Core, designed simplify deployments for enterprise customers. Strategies employed by these cloud providers to enhance enterprise connectivity include acquisitions, such as Microsoft’s purchase of Metaswitch and Affirmed Networks in 2020, and co-creation efforts like AWS’s partnerships with Orange and Vodafone.

Hyperscalers emphasise rapid deployment as a key advantage, offering pre-integrated, plug-and-play solutions that enable businesses to quickly establish private networks. They aim to undercut more established players with cost-effective solutions, accelerating innovation, competition, investment, and adoption, particularly among SMEs. The involvement of hyperscalers is expected to enhance the roles of local integrators, neutral hosts, and service providers, enabling them to act as B2B system integrators and service providers by leveraging the technology and support provided by global players.

Specialist providers

Specialist providers are companies that offer customised wireless connectivity solutions based on the needs of their clients. Specialised private network operators are at the forefront of providing bespoke wireless connectivity solutions tailored to the specific needs of their clients.

These solution providers such as Celona, Druid, Athonet (Acquired by HPE), Parallel Wireless, and Cradlepoint (acquired by Ericsson), has emerged, specialising in deploying private networks. These startups leverage the commoditisation of core infrastructure and the availability of shared and licensed spectrum options to offer innovative solutions. By combining vertical domain expertise, networking knowledge, physical infrastructure, and systems integration, these specialised providers are uniquely positioned to meet the diverse needs of industries such as manufacturing, energy, and mining, addressing both OT and IT requirements.

Neutral host players

Neutral host providers are companies that own telecoms infrastructure and lease it out to enable cost-effective network deployments. This approach allows multiple service providers to share the same physical infrastructure, enhancing coverage and capacity without the need for duplicate investments. Service providers can utilise this shared infrastructure to offer services in areas with poor coverage, such as university campuses, public event venues, and industrial sites.

In the context of private networks, enterprises may leverage their private network infrastructure to function as neutral hosts, providing coverage for their sites in remote locations without public mobile coverage. This is particularly beneficial for enterprises across various sectors that face connectivity challenges in their operations.

For example, as a neutral host provider, Boldyn Networks is collaborating with TfL (Transport for London) to enhance coverage in the London Underground. The company is also partnering with major MNOs such as Three, Vodafone, VMO2, and EE to ensure that all their customers will be connected once the rollout is complete.

Conclusion

In summary, the private LTE/5G market is evolving rapidly, with a dynamic mix of established leaders and innovative newcomers driving progress. As enterprises increasingly adopt these networks to support their digital transformation, understanding the diverse ecosystem and the roles of different players will be essential for leveraging the full potential of private LTE/5G technology. This diverse ecosystem ensures that businesses can find the right partners to meet their specific connectivity needs, paving the way for enhanced productivity, safety, and operational efficiency.

Zoey Yin

Zoey Yin

Zoey Yin

Consultant

Zoey Yin is a Consultant at STL Partners, specialising in edge computing.

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