Global private wireless networks hit accelerator in 2023

Study shows good times rolling for private networks industry, with major tech suppliers playing significant roles as integrated solution providers and total deployments set to grow by 33% to 2028

Research from internet of things (IoT) analyst firm Berg Insight found that 2,900 private LTE/5G networks were in place across the world at the end of 2023, including trial and pilot deployments.

The research report, Private LTE/5G networks for IoT applications, defined a private cellular network as a 3GPP-based private LTE/5G network built for the sole use of a private entity such as an enterprise or government organisation. Referred to as non-public networks by the 3GPP, private LTE/5G networks use spectrum defined by the 3GPP and LTE or 5G NR base stations, small cells and other radio access network (RAN) infrastructure to transmit voice and data to edge devices.

According to Berg Insight, these developments are opening up a range of opportunities for the cellular ecosystem, fuelling a new wave of investments by established network equipment suppliers and attracting new entrants into the space. It noted that private LTE/5G network deployments were growing from a small base, with an increasing number of organisations trialling and deploying networks.

Berg Insight estimates there are about 2,200 private 4G LTE networks currently deployed globally, serving a variety of use cases. Private 5G network deployments are moving from trials to commercial operations, which Berg said amounted to an estimated 700 networks.

The analyst forecast that to 2028, the number of private LTE/5G network deployments would grow at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 33% to reach 11,900 networks at the end of the period. Increasingly, the networks will be deployed into commercial operations faster as there is less need for use case testing.

Berg also predicted that a “meaningful” number of private LTE network deployments would also be upgraded to 5G, starting in the next two to three years.

The report identified a market comprising important specialised core network software suppliers, including Druid Software, Athonet (acquired by HPE in June 2023), Affirmed Networks and Metaswitch (both part of Microsoft since mid-2020).

Berg said EPC/5GC offerings were available from close to 30 suppliers. A third category comprises IT-centric players like Cisco and HPE. These companies focus on delivering fully integrated Wi-Fi and private LTE/5G solutions, enabling network managers to administer Wi-Fi and private LTE/5G networks through a single interface. Celona is a new entrant in the space, backed by NTT Data and Qualcomm, offering its integrated private cellular software in a single subscription.

“The major RAN vendors (Ericsson, Nokia and Huawei) all play significant roles as integrated solution providers and are challenged by a number of smaller RAN equipment providers. Nokia counts the largest number of private network deployments, with more than 635 private cellular network customers at the end of Q2-2023,” said Fredrik Stalbrand, principal analyst at Berg Insight.

“The vendors increasingly pursue channel-led sales strategies, and have developed ecosystems of mobile operators, systems integrators, VARs and consulting partners to bring solutions to market,” he added.

The report also highlighted a number of small cell and other RAN equipment providers, including Airspan Networks, Baicells, CommScope, JMA Wireless, Mavenir, Samsung Networks, Sercomm and ZTE provide LTE/5G radio products and in some cases complete private network offerings.

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