Nokia on 2021: A private 5G reality check, a private 4G mass market, a new industrial era
As we look forward to 2021, we must also reflect on this past year. In addition to tragic human cost, the pandemic cast a spotlight on the ability of business and society to cope with previously unimagined challenges.
For industries such as manufacturing, supply chain, and logistics, flexibility and resilience have been essential traits to thrive in a ‘new normal.’ As time has passed, organizations further along in their digital transformations have been better equipped to cope.
It is hardly surprising, then, that digital transformation will be high on the agenda for businesses in this coming year, and in many cases industrial-grade private wireless will play a central role in that transformation.
Fulfilling this promise for private wireless, we predict the following enablers will come into play –with a reality check or two along the way.
Based on customer feedback, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to deployment, and customers will take their own routes to vendor partnership and selection.
But if you’re serious about providing private wireless as part of a solution that delivers quantifiable results, deep relationships with carriers, enterprises, cloud providers, industry specialists, and system integrators are the order of the day.
The broader partner ecosystem will continue to evolve, offering customers a dazzling array of choice about how, and with whom, to implement private wireless. Vendors will be judged by the company they keep. So, watch out for new alliances evolving.
Arguably the ultimate enabler of private wireless, spectrum availability will increasingly popularize private wireless in the coming year as new options come on-stream.
Next year will see private wireless acceleration with CBRS in the US, where – fuelled by the PAL auction and GAA spectrum availability – mobile operators, cable operators, and enterprises will aggressively drive deployment as they seek return on their collective investment of more than $4 billion. 2021 should also be the year where private wireless in unlicensed spectrum, such as MulteFire, finally becomes a reality.
Also, many countries are now making nationwide 4G spectrum in the 410/450MHz band available for segments that need critical wide-area connectivity, such as utilities, transportation and public safety.
Should an organization wish to deploy 4G private wireless for defined OT use-cases across an extensive geographic region – say a nationwide utility company – low spectrum bands, with massive coverage capability, can make large-scale private wireless highly economical for field-area networks.
With private wireless gaining ground in popularity, how should companies invest? LTE for now, or direct to 5G? The coming year will see more and more organizations making this decision. While we are very bullish about 5G, next year will also see a degree of reality in the marketplace.
With a delayed-but-completed R16, and R17 still outstanding, we could otherwise have been advancing quickly to leverage new, embodied capabilities such as ultra-reliable low-latency communication (URLLC) and time-sensitive networking (TSN). But chipsets required to support these capabilities have yet to emerge. This is no reason for gloom, however.
The reality is that 2021 will see acceleration in deployments of private 5G SA networks for validation and proof-of-concept, helping to drive future industrial ecosystems, and to deliver on the 5G promise. But the choice between LTE and 5G in the near-term will continue to be a business decision based on a range of factors that include spectrum, industrial ecosystem readiness, and cost – not solely a technology standard decision.
More often than not, the choice will be (4.9G) LTE. In fact, some industry analysts have recently forecast that 5G private wireless will only overtake 4G deployment at the end of the decade. Pouring a dose of realism on the matter, Industry 4.0 is already happening now, bringing significant competitive advantage to organizations that started early.
So laggard organizations should get going in 2021, learn on the way with LTE, and be ready to move fast with 5G as the industrial ecosystem evolves.
At our most outlandish, could we potentially see the emergence of a private wireless mass market in 2021? Many of the enablers are in place. For example, total-cost-of-ownership (TCO) comparisons between Wi-Fi and private wireless have proved an eye-opener for many prospective industrial customers.
One recent deployment in the US indicated that just a small number of private LTE radios provided superior coverage and reliability over some 200 Wi-Fi access points. That sounds persuasive, especially if you’re a green or brown-field industrial site starting from scratch.
And even if you are not, the lower TCO of private wireless compared with a Wi-Fi 6 upgrade represents a compelling reason to add private wireless for OT, while keeping existing Wi-Fi for IT requirements.
So, as 2020 is a year we quickly want to forget, 2021 holds promise for cable-free digitalization, unfettered growth in private wireless deployments and a new industrial era.