Private networks: beginning of the end, or end of the beginning for telcos?

private networks
Image by sabthai | Bigstockphoto

Private networks were going to be the timer that set the trigger that caused the massive explosion in 5G take up among enterprises.

Sadly, it seems that the timer might have fired, but the trigger didn’t do its job. This is according to research house ABI who believe that the private network explosion is a damp squib.

According to publicly announced figures, Germany, the leader in private network uptake, consists largely of enterprises being ‘sold’ their networks by dedicated automation solution providers. China, they believe, has almost as many, but only 40 or so have been publicly announced.

So, why the apparent disappointment for private networks?

We are as guilty as the next man for believing that private networks would be the kick starter for 5G, and, naturally, we also questioned whether telcos were best placed to take advantage. We thought not, on balance, because a telco does not know the real requirements of factories and facilities in areas where they are not familiar with the challenges. Thus, the enterprises themselves would take up the opportunity, managing suppliers and partners, including a telco, but purely for the connectivity needs. All that said, Rethink Research is bullish about private 5G networks but also believes that demand will taper off around 2025. Rethink believes the real beneficiaries will be the network equipment people.

It could, of course, be the hype around 5G that has produced this Gartnerian Trough of Disillusionment.

Why rely on pure 5G private networks when you can use a mish-mash of the latest, greatest and most suitable technology? With the latest advances in the world of WiFi, it is a good question, and there are firms out there providing tailored solutions solving real needs.

Once again, we are about to be guilty of believing in the purity and excellence of one technology when the real solutions lie in many places.

It is also true, as we know, that 5G is only as good as the applications it enables and, as we also know, telcos are not great at innovating with applications and services.

South Korea, first in most things, 5G has already recognised the problem and is funding a huge programme to kick start applications for 5G. 1,800 start-ups are set to benefit from this stimulus package from the Government.

The South Korean Government has a point. With all the hype surrounding 5G for the last how many years, the applications part of the puzzle have been noticeably absent. With the exception of some gaming applications and cool AR services, it is difficult to point to anything that really requires 5G. Of course, people talk about the IoT and autonomous vehicles, but a) most IoT applications work fine on 4G or less, and b) autonomous driving is still a long way away.

We may be wrong, ABI Research may be wrong, other industry observers may be wrong, but it is beginning to look as if 5G private networks are not going to kick start the enterprise uptake.

Unless the South Korean approach works, it is hard to see 5G take up in the consumer market lighting any fires.

Related article:

South Korea is leading – and disrupting – the emerging 5G world

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