Private Mobile Networks November 2020
The demand for private mobile networks based on LTE (and increasingly 5G) technologies is being driven by the spiralling data, security, digitisation and enterprise mobility requirements of modern business and government entities. Organisations of all types are combining connected systems with big data and analytics to transform operations, increase automation and efficiency or to deliver new services to their users. Wireless networking with LTE or 5G enables these transformations to take place even in dynamic, remote or highly secure environments, while offering the scale benefits of a technology that has already been deployed worldwide.
The arrival of LTE-Advanced systems delivered a step change in network capacity and throughput, while 5G networks have brought improved density (support for larger numbers of users or devices), even greater capacity again, as well as dramatic improvements to latency that enable use of mobile technology for time-critical applications.
In addition to companies looking to develop their own private mobile networks for the first time, there is a large base of potential customers who currently operate LMR/PMR private networks based on technologies such as TETRA, P25 and DMR. These customers are demanding critical broadband services that are simply not available from alternative technologies and consequently, private mobile networks based on LTE and 5G have the potential to eventually replace much of this market.
The exact number of existing private mobile network deployments is hard to determine, as details are not often made public. Excluding the companies holding CBRS PAL licences in the USA (except those known to be undertaking private rather than public mobile network projects using the spectrum), available data shows that at least 330 companies have been or are investing in private mobile networks based in LTE or 5G, in the form of trials and pilot deployments, commercial network launches or investment in licences that would enable deployment of private LTE or 5G networks. This is likely to be a substantial underestimate of the overall global market.
GSA has identified 36 countries with LTE or 5G-suitable private network spectrum licences or private network deployments based on LTE or 5G.
In order to improve information about this market, GSA is now maintaining a database of private LTE and 5G networks and spectrum worldwide. The database catalogues specific information about 199 companies with (LTE or 5G-suitable) private mobile licences or known to be deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks to enable analysis about the evolution of the market and is being added to on an ongoing basis. This report is the third in a series tracking the evolution of this sector of the industry and includes a data annex for GSA Members.
Whatever the approach to deployment, an organisation cannot operate a private LTE or 5G network without access to sufficient and appropriate spectrum. Private mobile networks based on LTE or 5G can be deployed in licensed, licensed (sub-leased), shared or unlicensed spectrum.
Licensed spectrum can be used where either a public operator provides a private network-as-a-service (NaaS) using the spectrum it has been allocated to run public networks or where it sub-leases its spectrum to the private network operator or, alternatively, where the national regulator has specifically allocated spectrum to be used for local private networks. In many countries, utilities and emergency services have historically been allocated dedicated slices of spectrum for their private networks (although many would argue they don’t have enough spectrum to support future requirements and are considering hybrid models combining public services and private assets). With the arrival of 5G, regulators in many countries are considering allocating, or are already allocating, more spectrum to enable private network deployment, with the aim of enabling and encouraging digital industry development.
Shared spectrum solutions enable the use of the same spectrum range in a single geographic area by more than one organisation.
Unlicensed spectrum solutions enable the use of LTE or 5G to build a network using spectrum that is freely available for public use, such as the spectrum bands set aside globally at 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz that are already widely used for WiFi.
Both LTE and 5G have development paths that have or will encompass all three options. LTE was originally designed to work in licensed spectrum, but a variety of technology developments have enabled support of unlicensed networking. LTE-U was developed as a pre-Release 13 technology pioneered in the USA and has been deployed in Thailand and trialled in a handful of other countries. It enables use of the 5 GHz unlicensed WiFi spectrum to augment the LTE network. Momentum in the market slowed after the emergence of the 3GPP standard for Licensed Assisted Access (LAA), which enables use of unlicensed spectrum alongside a licensed anchor band and which has now been deployed by operators in six countries. Other approaches include LTE WLAN Link Aggregation (LWA) and LTE WLAN radio level integration with IPSec tunnels (LWIP).
Multefire subsequently emerged enabling deployment of LTE networks in either shared spectrum environments or unlicensed spectrum (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz globally and 800/900 MHz and 1900 MHz regionally).
Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a blended approach that has been developed in the USA. Access to the spectrum is prioritised for government/military users and after them, for Priority Access Licensed (PAL) users (organisations that have acquired one of the many regional ten-year licences in spectrum auctions) with everyone else (General Authorized Access [GAA] users) able to request access dynamically to use the spectrum via approved SAS (spectrum access server) operators.
3GPP Release 16 has introduced standards for use of unlicensed spectrum at 5 GHz and 6 GHz for 5G networks. It enables new modes of operation for 5G networks: anchored NR-U (licensed assisted access), using a licensed spectrum band as the anchor for an unlicensed spectrum band (with options to use either LTE or 5G anchors for the new radio using the unlicensed spectrum) and Standalone NR-U, using only unlicensed spectrum to carry the 5G service (with no LTE or 5G NR anchor).
While use of unlicensed spectrum offers benefits, it is the case that many organisations are concerned about the risk of not being able to achieve the required deterministic system behaviour, availability and performance using unlicensed or shared spectrum solutions, meaning that dedicated spectrum is required too.
Private Mobile Networks: November 2020
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