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By David Erlich, Director of Business Consulting, Sofrecom

Mobile private networks (MPNs) are emerging as a complex toolbox for service providers. Their solution design combines a high set of variables including customer perception, functional requirements, financial benefits and technical capabilities.

Nevertheless, according to analyst, Analysys Mason, this market is expected to reach USD 9 billion in 2028, which represents one of the few growth areas in a flattish wireless market within developed countries. Let’s take a look on this intricate matrix and see how it can be turned into an opportunity.

The disruption of the telecom supply, accelerated by virtualization and the advent of 5G Standalone (5G SA), has opened a wide range of possibilities for services to enterprises. A large set of business verticals are set to benefit from mobile private networks. Let’s consider some examples below: 

  • Port Authorities: MPNs are used to secure and optimize material handling on a wide area (to connect cranes, trucks, and shipping containers), streamlining operations through improved tracking and automation.
  • Manufacturing (connectivity of machines, robots, and sensors): MPNs are used to facilitate real-time monitoring and automation while keeping data on premises for better security and performances.
  • Stadiums and Convention Centers: MPNs are used to offer enhanced experiences for attendees, including high-density Wi-Fi, and location-based services.

Each one of these use cases has a completely different requirement in terms of security, performance, and coverage, ranging from mission-critical implementations in manufacturing to add-on services in the case of venues. Demand may combine several characteristics such as ‘push-to-talk’ functionalities for workers and low-powered WAN for sensors in the same industrial campus, like a refinery.

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On the supply side, there are major different solution paths; a fully dedicated integrated solution on one hand and an operated solution based on slicing on the other hand, which can be hybridized with customized pieces. Let’s have a look at some drivers:

  1. Regulation: Only a few countries (20+) allow enterprises to purchase licenses directly from the regulator (mainly in Europe). This drives the supply side in other countries towards Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and operating solutions.
  2. Customer Approach: Some enterprises prefer capital ownership and will favor private solutions as they consider telecom infrastructure as a critical investment, similar to their manufacturing facilities.
  3. Security: It is possible to dedicate a slice to a customer. Its immediate benefit resides in the enhanced security, which allows the implementation of customized policies. Moreover, stricter security requirements, such as keeping all customer data on premise, can lead to the implementation of mobile edge computing resources. Ultimately, security is a stand-alone solution, but it is technically not mandatory.
  4. Performance: Tailored Quality of Service (QoS) is not provided by the slice itself (which is just an isolation) but can be attached to it. At the end of the day, a better network behavior will require specific assets—dedicated spectrum, and additional radio equipment. A customer-dedicated slice is not required but can ease the delivery of the solution.
  5. Coverage Requirements Drive Choice: MNOs, which cover wide areas, will be well positioned for a transportation use case (public transportation like a bus, private truck fleet, etc), but less relevant for a remote area poorly served where a new infrastructure needs to be set up (like a mine).

For an established mobile operator, these challenges can be turned into a competitive advantage, capitalizing on the credentials in mobile operations and long-term partnerships with B2B customers. 

Mobile private network sales will require a change in the way MNOs are approaching their clients. Instead of picking up a Service Provider Portfolio, the first step would be to gather customer context, in a consultative selling approach:

  • Business Consulting: Evaluation of potential solutions should consider not only technical criteria, such as security requirements, but also alignment with customer objectives, which could include factors like pay-back periods
  • Technical Consulting: Assistance with vendor selection, contracts, project planning, license granting, and terminal compatibility
  • Technical Delivery: Site surveys, integration within existing IT, cloud and cybersecurity

For an MNO this means several Copernican revolutions:

  • Do not Favor Systematically Shared Solutions: Even if they are technically sound, do not favor systematically shared solutions because other considerations can drive customers’ choices.
  • Partner with Potential Competitors: Traditional hardware vendors like Nokia provide both shared and dedicated solutions. Integrators that have the capabilities to deploy complex projects can become subcontractors, expanding the operational capabilities of MNOs.
  • Consider New Vendors: It's worth noting that Alternate Network Providers (such as Affirmed Networks, HPE/Athonet, etc.) are estimated to acquire in this earlier phase the largest share in MPN deployments.
  • Understand the Market: A successful deployment of a private network requires a deep understanding of market strategies, product specifications, and the technical sense of engineering expertise when it comes to network design and integration.

MNOs are in an ideal position to take advantage of the private networks market since they possess all the ingredients of the recipe. Nevertheless, they will have to transform the way they sell and operate solutions.

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