Over 1,000 Private Cellular Networks Announced in 2023, but Restrictive Spectrum Allocations and Telco Inertia Pose Threats to Future Growth

08 Jun 2023

According to a new report from global technology intelligence firm ABI Research, as of May 2023, over 1,000 private cellular networks for enterprises have emerged worldwide, showcasing a remarkable surge compared to the previous year. The number of private networks is growing particularly strong in national markets with dedicated spectrum arrangements for licensed or shared spectrum.

There has been a decline in the proportion of publicly disclosed private network deployments, resulting in fewer public network deployments being made available for public reporting. “This is actually a good sign for the private networks market,” explains Leo Gergs, Senior Analyst for 5G Markets at ABI Research. “Enterprises are beginning to see the deployment of private cellular connectivity as a competitive advantage and therefore do not want to talk about it too openly, which is important as the market moves from the experimental phase toward commercializing private network deployments.” The constantly growing number of private cellular networks shows that enterprise interest is still high in this (still perceived as relatively new) connectivity technology. But Gergs warns, “The telco industry urgently needs to deliver on promises made to the enterprise community now. Otherwise, enterprise 5G will enter the history books as the technology that always overpromised and underdelivered.”

The number of private networks is growing particularly strong in the national markets with dedicated spectrum arrangements for licensed or shared spectrum. In this context, Gergs underlines the importance of harmonized spectrum bands for enterprise connectivity, “Spectrum regulations need to look at what is really happening as enterprises often have multiple sites in different countries – or even continents. And they are unwilling to look for separate connectivity solutions for each site.” In this context, recent initiatives by the European Commission, suggesting its member states reserve spectrum between 3.8 GHz and 4.2 GHz for enterprises, are an important example for other regions to follow. Gergs says, “The situation in the French market perfectly illustrates this importance. Although the French Regulator ARCEP was the first in Europe to make spectrum available to enterprises, uptake was minimal as the spectrum band was unattractive. Since ARCEP opened spectrum at 3.8 GHz – like its German neighbor – in 2022, deployment numbers increased considerably.”

“It is a huge blow to enterprise connectivity that up-and-coming global economies still decide for very restrictive spectrum allocations,” Gergs states. The Indian Department for Transportation (DoT) earlier in 2023 dismissed recommendations by its own regulator Trai to set aside licensed spectrum for enterprise connectivity. “This will inevitably have a slow-down effect on enterprise digitization and transformation in the country, ultimately leading to lower economic performance and a lower GDP.”

For cellular connectivity to flourish in the enterprise domain, business needs easy access to licensed mobile network spectrum. “Otherwise, they are forced to go through traditional network operators who struggle to adjust their value proposition to enterprise requirements. Moreover, enterprises do not trust them – particularly in industrial environments – to deal with OT data,” Gergs concludes.

These findings are from ABI Research’s Shared Spectrum & Private Cellular Networks Tracker market data report. This report is part of the company’s 5G Markets research service, which includes research, data, and analyst insights. Market Data spreadsheets comprise deep data, market share analysis, and highly segmented, service-specific forecasts to provide detailed insight into where opportunities lie.

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