Betacom and UScellular Offer Hybrid Private/Public Networks with New Partnership, Mirroring MVNO Ambitions

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By Elizabeth Stokes | 4Q 2023 | IN-7174

Betacom and UScellular announced this fall a partnership to offer private/public hybrid 5G networks in the United States. The companies created a single Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) solution that allows customers to switch between Betacom’s private Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) networks and public UScellular networks. The solution mirrors a SIM service from Transatel, a French Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) attempting to wield its global network for similar ends. More MVNOs and private network suppliers might offer these types of solutions in the future, with each supplier type using its unique expertise to capture new customer demand.

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Betacom and UScellular Team Up


Private wireless network vendor Betacom recently announced a partnership with UScellular to provide private/public hybrid 5G networks in the United States. The partnership will result in a new Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) solution that allows customers to connect to Betacom’s private Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) networks and public UScellular networks.

Enabling public-private network switching has been a focus of innovation for network providers as private networks have gained popularity in the United States and worldwide. Betacom and UScellular's solution—referred to by the companies as an industry first—resembles a service from Transatel, a French Mobile Virtual Network Operator (MVNO) attempting to use its global network for similar ends.

The emergence of these solutions proves that private wireless customers demand connectivity beyond their dedicated networks. It also signals that two distinct vendor types—private wireless service providers and MVNOs—can each wield their unique expertise and business models to capitalize on this customer demand. Whether one supplier type is better equipped to offer this solution than the other will depend on a customer’s application and geography.

Private-to-Public Roaming Improves Coverage and Resilience


Several Internet of Things (IoT) use cases require devices to travel between private and public networks. Connected vehicles, for example, frequently move out of private networks in warehouses into areas with only public coverage. Cargo ships also often leave and enter different ports with private networks. Owners of these valuable assets need visibility throughout each network transition. While private wireless customers could independently coordinate roaming agreements with different public carriers to achieve consistent connectivity, relying on a SIM-based product and prearranged private-public partnerships would be a less complicated and less costly solution. The Betacom and UScellular collaboration is primarily designed to provide consistent connectivity to enterprises as their devices move between a company’s campuses and private networks. UScellular has extensive rural coverage in the United States and numerous partnerships with other carriers, culminating in advanced coverage for private-public use cases countrywide.

Offering private and public connectivity in a single SIM extends the range of a device, while also improving private network resiliency. If a customer’s private CBRS network goes down, devices using the single SIM technology from Betacom and UScellular can then fall back to the public network. Private/public network redundancy could be particularly useful for organizations, such as airports, ports, and manufacturing plants, that support mission-critical use cases.

Investing in public-private network switching is a sound strategy for private network vendors like Betacom. Customers with mobile IoT assets are more likely to partner with a private network provider if they know their devices will not be limited to hyper-local coverage areas. Public carriers also benefit from these partnerships, as they can gain additional traffic from private wireless customers who otherwise do not depend on public bands.

It also is sensible that MVNOs would offer private-public switching services, given their primary offering. Virtual operators are accustomed to aggregating global carrier networks on a single SIM, and it would be a natural evolution for these organizations to develop SIM technology that supports a wide range of public networks and private networks.

Transatel, a Paris-based MVNO, offers a service called Private LTE/5G Networks Extension, a SIM-based solution that enables customers to connect to their private networks and Transatel’s public network. Founded in 2000, Transatel has curated a network featuring connectivity in over 200 countries. A multi-network SIM like the one from Transatel can provide private wireless customers coverage from many global public operators, rather than just one regional carrier like UScellular. MVNOs might have an implicit advantage in catering to highly mobile IoT applications that require customers to travel across vast, sometimes transnational distances while changing between private and public networks. A solution like Betacom's is likely sufficient if regional or national coverage is all that is required.

Determine the Private Wireless Application Best Suited for Your Business Model


ABI Research recommends that private network vendors and MVNOs continue to invest in SIM-based private-public roaming solutions. Though the target market for these SIMs may seem limited, demand for these solutions will only increase as private wireless networks become more popular. The need for these solutions will also increase as private network customers experience growth. As these enterprises scale, their campuses and locations will expand, and the need for a seamless inter-campus connectivity solution will become more integral to company operations. MVNOs and private network providers should market these SIMs as a solution that prepares customers for future growth, one that can support a customer’s increasing number of assets as they travel among and in and out of their expanding locations.

ABI Research also suggests that both MVNOs and private network providers determine which type of private wireless customers are best suited to their business model. MVNOs should seek out highly mobile IoT applications that can make the best use of their global, aggregated networks. Private wireless providers like Betacom should decide what type of coverage they want to offer—whether they would like to provide private-public connectivity to devices moving around campuses, a single country, or globally. This will determine what carrier networks (or MVNOs) they should partner with in the future.

Finally, network providers should be clear if their private-public SIMs are supported by their existing SIM management platforms. For example, MVNO SIMs that navigate only public operator profiles are typically accompanied by a SIM and connectivity management platform through which customers can track SIMs and manage SIM lifecycles. SIMs that can roam from public to private networks should have similar support so customers can oversee a SIM’s private or public status from a single source. When BICS, a Belgium-based MVNO, and Microsoft announced their public-private roaming solution in the spring of 2023, the solution was offered alongside a SIM and connectivity management platform. Network operators that offer private-public SIMs should specify how customers can manage these SIMs and should strive to incorporate these offerings into their wider SIM management platforms so customers can view all their SIM solutions in a single view.


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