Innovation please keep up! What will 2020 bring for private 5G networks?

Lots of people have been writing their predictions for 2020 – and the coming decade.

In the last few weeks, we’ve seen a feast of contributions from all corners of our fantastic industry. Some speak in such broad-brush strokes that it’s going to be quite hard to mark them at the end of the year.

Others are 100 page-plus articles, offering real depth of analysis and argument that have clearly been in production for months.

These are all great contributions and I guess, in all cases, the authors are attempting to convince us of their foresight or influence – or possibly both.

Either way, the contributions are stimulating. 

The rise of private 5G networks

This year I’ve decided to take a “less is more” approach and offer just one prediction.

And it’s about the rise of private 5G networks. 

Over the history of the mobile industry there’s been a few steps towards private mobile networks. 

Although it was some way back, the most successful was Cellnet’s Mobex. 

This allowed your mobile phone to work with your PBX. In truth, it was more about sidestepping the exorbitant mobile termination rates of the time, than feature/function innovation. 

Ofcom’s shared licencing of low power GSM was a brave attempt to widen spectrum ownership. It should have triggered some serious private mobile innovation, but data’s rapid eclipse of voice put paid to that.

Wi-Fi has been a terrific enabler of innovation in public and private data applications and has meant private mobile data was just not anybody’s top priority. 

But this is changing – it looks like three forces are coming together to trigger a rush of innovation:

1. 5G is a major transformation on many levels. It includes novel capabilities, addressing low latency and quality of service guarantees – as well as high bandwidth performance resulting from spectral efficiency improvements and the opening up of new spectrum bands.

Importantly, 5G’s core network functions can now be fully virtualised and delivered in the cloud, dramatically lowering the barrier to owning a 5G core network.

2. Ofcom and its peers around the world are also looking to make spectrum more open and widely available, including approaches to sharing on a very small geographic basis.

3. The Wi-Fi community is also pushing like mad to add capabilities into Wi-Fi that are already in mobile. This includes high device density, predictable quality of service with resilience, and greater simplicity and security in managing devices and connections.

Proof if it was needed, that Wi-Fi might be reaching the limits of its capability – but also that there’s a demand for more.

A burst of innovation

We think these forces will come together and result in a burst of innovation around 5G devices and applications – in private business and industrial premises. 

All the benefits of that protocol engineering – superb devices and chip sets – together with more open spectrum focussed on the intimate business needs of companies, their people and processes will take off in 2020. 

But we don’t see this as a zero-sum game, where Mobile operators simply lose business to private solution integrators. We see this as incremental business for both – as these 5G devices will likely need wide area connectivity and these new applications may well provide inspiration for public, mass market 5G services. 

Perhaps we should stop there. 

Precisely what 2020 holds, who knows. But we’re sure it will be interesting. 

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