Site-wide private networks are paving the way for what is dubbed the connected enterprise. Examples include manufacturing plants in Suzhou, China, with fully automated production lines, warehouses in Singapore with robotic picking technologies, and container ports in Laem Chabang, Thailand, with autonomous inventory checks. In a nutshell, assets and infrastructure are connected, with data exchanged continuously from machine to machine (M2M) and from machines to the networks controlling the site.
Private networks bring a number of benefits to Asia’s enterprises. However, the success of a connected enterprise depends on uninterrupted global connectivity and the mobility of assets. A component produced in a Suzhou factory, for example, must remain connected as it’s transported away from the factory site and shipped to another warehouse or end-user, anywhere in the world. There are also regulatory challenges that must be overcome in order for deployments to maintain momentum.
Fortunately, regulations are catching up with the demand for quick, easy, global roaming connectivity. A new technology called SIM for Things is helping to deliver this seamless connectivity. SIM for Things – essentially a SIM card that seamlessly enables global connectivity in a consumer or industrial device – provides that critical link between a private network used by an enterprise and hundreds of global networks across the world.
Below, we take a look at who is driving private network development and how SIM for Things can help overcome a key private network challenge.
Private network deployments: where are we now?
According to ABI Research, Asia Pacific countries, including Australia, China, New Zealand, South Korea and Singapore, are leading the charge in private network deployment, creating a market opportunity worth around US$7 billion, or 65% of global private network revenues.
Businesses across Asia Pacific have come to embrace a 5G-powered future – more so than their American and European counterparts. A new study by Ernst & Young has examined global tech perceptions amid a pandemic recovery.
Approximately 80% of APAC businesses are currently involved in a 5G rollout or aim to do so in the next three years. In the Americas and Europe, this stands at roughly 70%. COVID 19 has also been a stronger catalyst in APAC than anywhere else: with nearly 30% in the region giving their 5G and IoT spend a boost since last year – compared to only 13% and 15% in the Americas and Europe.
The commitment to 5G goes even further. 80% of APAC business executives expect 5G to soon form the backbone of their business, compared to 70% in Europe and 75% in the Americas. Ernst & Young’s study believes that APAC’s lead has to do with a broad-based government drive to realise the potential of 5G.
Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam, for instance, have formally announced 5G strategies, while Malaysia hopes to complete its rollout by the end of this year.
Separate from public networks, private networks are secure, offer enterprises greater control, and deliver targeted high-capacity coverage. Private network deployments will be found in Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) settings and in self-contained environments such as hospitals, university campuses, leisure complexes, airports, and transport hubs.
The benefits to enterprises are clear. Data can be analysed, processes optimized, efficiencies realized, and waste reduced. Value will also be realized across the mobile ecosystem. The global private LTE and 5G equipment and services market is expected to grow at around 20% CAGR to about US$10 billion in 2025, according to a report by Mobile Experts.
Challenges of private network deployment
What’s getting in the way of this value being realized? First: regulation. There are currently debates in regions worldwide regarding whether to reserve 5G spectrum for certain verticals – such as manufacturers wanting certain bands for private networks. The competition for spectrum and demand from verticals must be balanced with the need to provide operators with spectrum for consumer 5G.
There is progress on this front, however. For instance, in the United States, the FCC licenses part of the CBRS (Citizen Broadband Radio Service) band to businesses at a reduced rate than that traditionally paid by operators for other bands of wireless spectrum. In Germany, meanwhile, regulator BNetzA has reserved 5G spectrum for private companies: the likes of Bosch, BMW, Siemens and Volkswagen have already bought licenses.
Other European countries are taking similar approaches. It’s only a matter of time before access to spectrum is opened up to private companies on a global scale through cost-reduction and legislation changes.
Meanwhile, in China, 5G deployments are steaming ahead, with more than 916,000 5G base stations being deployed by July, more than any other country, according to the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology data. A good portion of that spectrum is being reserved for industrial usage. Spurred on by China’s rapid development, other countries in Asia are following suit.
A second challenge is one that LTE solutions providers have more control over. For a truly connected enterprise, seamless connectivity must be guaranteed from within a linked site to the region, country and world outside it. This presents a challenge for the enterprise, as the asset leaves the private network and joins a public network. Either the SIM card which provides connectivity in the asset must be changed to provide dedicated coverage, which is unworkable, or the asset must contain multiple SIMs. This naturally adds complexity and cost.
SIM for Things for private networks – and beyond
SIM for Things offers single-SIM access to and between a private network and national and international public networks. It offers seamless roaming across these networks in 500 destinations. This means that assets in a manufacturing plant in Ho Chi Minh, Vietnam, for example, will be connected when on the site and will remain connected as they’re transported across the world.
The third decade of the 21st century is turning into an interesting one. Global communications networks offer greater reach and security for Asia’s army of manufacturers and service companies looking to expand overseas. This allows Asian enterprises to launch and sustain a worldwide connected business, integrating with their own private networks. This technology is accessible across a number of different sectors. From the micro (SIM for Things as a small component) to the macro (a global communications infrastructure network and partner networks), Asian companies can accelerate their deployment of private LTE networks and provide critical links in the IoT ecosystem. This in turn will allow them to cement their market leadership in current and emerging sectors, such as driverless cars, drones, robotics, cloud computing, artificial intelligence and the Internet of Things.
By Malcolm Chan, Managing Director Asia-Pacific, BICS