Private 5G and WiFi 6E networks are taking off, but who will benefit?

private 5 networks WiFi 6E
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A new report from Rethink Technology Research combines forecast and analysis of high-performance wireless network deployments by enterprises and public sector organizations over the next 7 years running up to 2028. It focuses solely on the latest generations of cellular, that is 5G, and WiFi, that is 6E, since these are the options providing the capacity, speed and latencies that will serve emerging use cases across multiple vertical industry sectors.

Private 5G networks are on the verge of rapid take-off to generate a surge in annual revenues for network equipment from $1.5 billion in 2021 to $19.3 billion in 2027. Growth will be fastest in most markets from 2022 to 2025 before tailing off and declining towards the end of the period after 2027 as saturation approaches.

The level of penetration shows up most clearly on the graph of cumulative 5G deployments by cell, which will continue to rise beyond 2028 in all areas as lagging enterprises catch up. By 2028 there will be 26.6 million private 5G networks deployed around the world, up from 1.1 million in 2021. This growth will occur in all regions but will be most striking in the four countries leading the private 5G field now, the US, Germany, China and Japan.

China facing stronger regulatory resistance

Of these four, China stands out for facing stronger regulatory resistance to private 5G where roll out is dominated by the three great state-owned monopolies, China Mobile, China Telecom and China Unicom. But a strong upsurge from the county’s enterprises, including government agencies as well as manufacturers, looks like opening up the country’s enterprise 5G field to rapid growth.

Private wireless networks will be deployed at a faster rate than 5G

Private wireless networks will be deployed at a faster rate than 5G as a whole in most markets, as mobile networks combined with edge compute become capable of meeting more use cases and enabling new applications in the manufacturing process, UAVs, remote healthcare, advanced transportation and others.

While 5G will account for the lion’s share of the growth over the whole forecast period, there will still be a significant number of 4G private networks being deployed over the next few years. Similarly, on the WiFi front, the last generation 5 is dominant at present but it will be the latest 6E that takes over during the forecast period and offers an alternative to 5G for some of the emerging cases. There will also be a revival of heterogenous networks combining WiFi and cellular under these two latest generations as new AI-based techniques finally deliver the smooth handover that has proved elusive for so long.

Given the significant performance and capacity advances, coupled with improved cellular coexistence, WiFi 6E is on course for a similar growth trajectory as private 5G, tailing off later in the forecast period. It is true though that only the next generation WiFi 7 that will start being deployed after 2024 will close the gap on 5G in peak performance, capacity and low latency. Our forecast numbers for WiFi 6E also include early deployments of WiFi 7 without making any distinction.

Certainly, until that 7th generation comes along, WiFi will lack the de- terministic behaviour required for the most demanding ultra-low latency real-time applications, such as control of UAVs. In these scenarios, 5G will be preferred but WiFi will continue to coexist for applications where best-effort performance is adequate. This will include some of those use cases touted for 5G under the eMBB category concerned mostly with high capacity, although WiFi 6E itself still has to justify investment in the upgrade from WiFi 5. 5G will emerge in some cases as an immediate alternative to WiFi 6E.

Common factors affecting both private 5G and WiFi 6E rollouts

There are also common factors affecting both private 5G and WiFi 6E rollouts, such as chip shortages and other continuing impacts of the global COVID-19 pandemic. All these will impede deployments in the short and medium-term, with both service providers and their equipment suppliers reporting a slowdown resulting from changed working practices during the pandemic and disruptions within the supply chain.

In the longer term though, 5G will enable much greater harmonization within the private network field generally. For some enterprises where blanket indoor coverage is established there will be more concerted migration from WiFi to cellular for private wireless communications. But unless such 5G coverage is almost ubiquitous, users will continue with WiFi and indeed penetration will increase around new best effort use cases.

Report Objectives

The report combines forecast and analysis of high-performance wireless network deployments by enterprises and public sector organizations over the next 7 years running up to 2028. We focus solely on the latest generations of cellular, that is 5G, and WiFi, that is 6E, since these are the options providing the capacity, speed and latencies that will serve emerging use cases across multiple vertical industry sectors.

In both cases, deployments are at an early stage, especially for WiFi 6E combining the performance gains of WiFi 6 with the extra 1200 MHz capacity enabled by opening up a third band in the 6GHz area in addition to the existing 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz bands. Strongest growth will occur in the 5G sector, which will also dominate use cases requiring the most de-

terministic performance and lowest latencies. That, therefore, is the main focus, but the report also considers the impact of smoother handover, which will usher in a new chapter for heterogeneous networks (Het Nets) combining WiFi 6E and 5G. We define Het Nets as locations where users can access both cellular and WiFi. These range from cases where users switch between cellular and WiFi manually to completely integrated cores where devices are connected automatically and transparently to whichever is best at the time according to criteria such as cost, signal strength and anticipated QoS.

Deployment rates of private enterprise 5G will vary widely by both geography and industry sector so that the forecast dices the numbers by both of these. Since growth will be led particularly by a few key countries and sectors, separate forecasts are made for each of these. These in- include the four leading countries likely to drive private 5G adoption, that is the US, Germany, China and Japan. It also includes the six leading vertical sectors, manufacturing, retail, transportation, healthcare, public sector and energy. Factors governing differential growth across the sectors and geographies are discussed.

This executive summary provided by Caroline Gabriel at Rethink Technology Research. The full report is available here.

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Private 5G partnerships are forming but they are not being led by telcos

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