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Takeaways on the private networks opportunity from MWC Las Vegas

October 5, 2022 | Last week, I spent two days at Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas talking to vendors, integrators and others about a variety of subjects.  Rather than critique the show itself (there was much to critique…), this blog summarizes the discussions I had about private networks.  

Most of the conversations I had seemed to be in the food court, which was full during the majority of the show - it was hard to find a table.  It says a lot about a show when most of the value is in the food court…and I do not think people were there for the pizza, burgers or fries!

One question I asked everyone I met with was, “Are you seeing demand for private networks?”  iGR has spent a lot of time this year putting together detailed analyses and forecasts for private CBRS network demand in 12 verticals (13 if you count logistics which is really a combination of other industries) and we feel we have a good understanding of the various market dynamics.  But we are always questioning ourselves and asking if we have missed something or if we are being too optimistic. In general we tend to err on the side of caution and have relatively conservative forecasts.

So for us, MWC Las Vegas was another opportunity to see how the private market was developing, especially as we get toward the end of the year and get further from the pandemic.  CBRS has had a rough couple of years, since the pandemic hit just as the market was getting started.  The markets that many people expected to develop fastest did not do so, while other opportunities seemingly came out of nowhere (such as K-12 education). 

So with that in mind, here are the takeaways from the MWC private network discussions:

Private network demand is real - All companies we spoke to (radio vendors, core vendors, network integrators and system integrators) said that the demand was real and that their pipelines were increasing.  While there is certainly education to do, the pull-through from channels was strong and the projects significant.  

CBRS overlays into DAS - This trend was highlighted by several companies.  Basically, there is demand to add CBRS on top of existing DAS deployments to increase capacity and/or provide a separate private network.  While this involves additional investment, some of the DAS infrastructure could be reused depending on the age of the installation.

Use cases are there and are real - This was a big discussion.  While everyone says that demand and deployments are driven by business cases (this is not a technology-driven opportunity), there are some basic needs that seem to cross vertical industries: wire replacement; reliable connectivity; security.  BUT it is also apparent that not all deployments are being published as use cases, examples or TCOs.  In our Private Networks Ecosystem Directory, we have identified 109 private network case studies from around the world; these are live deployments (not trials) with referenceable announcements and releases.

But it appears there are many more deployments that are not getting made public, in most cases because the enterprise does not want to release details of their deployment.  This could be for competitive reasons or some other internal reason.  But the reality is that many vendors are unable to get permission to release details of many private network deployments.  How many more deployments are really out there?  From conversations we have had, I would estimate the true number of private network deployments is closer to 4x or 5x what we have in the directory.  But many will never be publicly announced.

Could companies be hyping the demand just to promote their own products and services?  Certainly this is possible, but I doubt it could be coordinated to this degree and across different company sizes and products, as well as different vertical markets.  Plus some of these companies are public and hence need to carefully control expectations.  

Key verticals are the ones we identified but growth curves differ - Another conversation point was about the verticals that are growing.  This varies according to the focus of the vendor, but it does appear that there are key verticals that are driving most of the demand at present.  And the good news for iGR is that these are the verticals we identified in our research.  But the demand curves vary enormously - not everything is a hockey stick or a straight line growth :)

Overall, the conversations at MWC re: private networks were encouraging. The demand appears real and growing and the ecosystem is putting more resources to work and investing more.  Is there a long way to go? Yes.  Is it early days?  Yes.  But not everyone in the ecosystem will make it and strategies will change many times.  But the signs at present are good.

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