The private 5G market continues to tempt telecommunication and equipment vendors with a pot of potential gold at the end of its rainbow, but integration challenges continue to vex those attempting to reach those riches, a problem Federated Wireless President and CEO Iyad Tarazi said the industry is increasingly focused on solving.
Tarazi heads a firm that has been involved in the private network market. This includes being one of the first to offer a platform allowing for management of the complex Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum licensing model that is built around maintaining interference protection for incumbent and priority access users.
The market itself has evolved rapidly over the past 18 months, with players from diverse industry segments staking claim to a piece of the private network ecosystem. This has provided a wealth of opportunities, but also significant integration challenges.
“A year-and-a-half ago, the belief was that private wireless was going to be driven primarily by the creation of these new types of desegregated or open wireless system, ecosystems, cloud solutions that we’re going to drive it and that were going to be one of the biggest accelerators in the market on the tail-end of announcements from several cloud companies about what they can do, [Amazon Web Services] being one of them,” Tarazi said. “That developed for some time and then it started reaching some limitations, and the limitation that we’re learning is that this is not a product business, this really is an integration business.”
Tarazi’s sentiment was echoed by a recent Analysys Mason report that cited that integration challenges continue to stifle growth, with system integrators (SIs) finding issues in getting equipment from different vendors to work seamlessly.
“Having multiple vendors in a single network requires complex testing and optimization and significantly expands the role of the integrator, creating opportunities for vendor-neutral SIs but new challenges for operators,” Analysys Mason Senior Analyst James Kirby wrote. “These challenges relate to technical scope, but also vendor/operator communication, problem resolution and after-service support.”
“This represents a significant opportunity, and new and existing integrators should invest in this to become key enablers in the open RAN market,” Kirby wrote. “This includes all types of integrators: vendor-integrators, operators and third-party integrators. However, all parties have to be conscious that there is a need for neutral integration in open RAN, otherwise we could witness further lock-in by larger vendor-integrators.”
Tarazi noted that Federated Wireless has adjusted to this change by deepening its integration support and looking at different verticals and technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and ways in which Federated Wireless could help build an ecosystem of partners that can deliver end products to customers.
The most recent partnership was this week when Federated Wireless was selected by VMware to help that vendor deliver its new VMware Private Mobile Network Service. That private network platform includes a private core capable of supporting both 4G LTE and 5G technology and a “certified RAN” that allows it to support different radio access network (RAN) providers.
Private 5G networks in education
Outside of the enterprise, Tarazi noted that Federated Wireless was seeing strong deployment and integration interest from the education sector. He specifically cited Federated Wireless’ recent partnership with T-Mobile US and the San Luis Obispo campus of California Polytechnic State University.
That deployment was initially announced late last year when it combined Federated Wireless’ managed private network platform and edge products from Amazon Web Services (AWS). More recently, Federated Wireless added its Neutral Host 2.0 platform that acts as a neutral host option on top of its managed private wireless service and provides enterprise customers a managed way to integrate cellular operators into their private network deployments.
“What is making education an important segment is that in a lot of these locations they have invested early in Wi-Fi and the systems need upgrading and they need to continue to add connectivity to new buildings, new facilities, new parts of campuses,” Tarazi said. “Because a lot of higher education continues to invest in expanding the facilities, they’re finding out that a mix of private 5G in addition to Wi-Fi systems and fiber systems is a very economic mix. We’ve seen a pipeline there and continued growth, and neutral host is one of the most important components.”
While specific verticals are showing opportunity, analysts, operators and vendors have all noted a longer ramp toward broader growth.
IDC predicts the market will surge from $1.9 billion in revenues last year to $5.2 billion in revenues by the end of 2027, growing at a robust 21% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) over that term. However, that end figure is short of the $8.3 billion in worldwide private LTE/5G wireless infrastructure revenues IDC had previously predicted would be generated by 2026.
Patrick Filkins, research manager for IoT and telecom network infrastructure at IDC, noted “the private cellular networks market continues to show promise, as both LTE and 5G are being rolled out to address enterprise and industrial challenges.”
Tarazi concurred, adding that those opportunities are there and that it’s just a matter now of finding the right fit for the different vertical markets.
“I don’t view the private wireless market has slowed as much as in retrofit for different players, that’s the way I would describe it,” Tarazi said. “There’s a lot of excitement, a lot of customers. We literally talk to hundreds of customers a month that come our way and there’s interest from almost all of them. The question sometimes is whether they’re ready or do they know what their applications look like, or do they know how to fit it within what they do today, or is the timing right, or the devices fit what they need. But certainly, the market interest is high and continues to develop and solutions continue to evolve and I think we’re going to see this continuing.”