The year adoption of private LTE and 5G networks accelerates (Nokia on 2022)
Many would reflect on 2021 with mixed feelings. On the positive side, there were significant developments in the telecoms industry such as wider scale deployments of 5G by CSPs and the increased availability of enterprise licensed spectrum, opening the door for campus deployment of private LTE and 5G networks. On the flip side, pandemic-related labour issues, ongoing restrictions and unexpected supply chain problems highlighted the areas where business processes were lacking, especially in the manufacturing and logistics sectors.
It now seems as if heavy asset industries have reached a Rubicon when it comes to increasing digitalisation on the journey to Industry 4.0. The modern world demands the increased flexibility, agility and resilience that can be achieved through implementing the right technology – supported by high performance networks – to withstand disruption and become nimbler in the future.
Fortunately, 2021 was also the year that yielded results that have fuelled optimism that 2022 will be the year that private network adoption will accelerate.
What are the factors driving adoption?
There are a number of reasons why it is anticipated that private LTE and 5G networks will become more widely used in 2022. A critical one is trust. Many early adopters which implemented these networks moved from successful trial phases to deployments, after recognising that private wireless networks were a critical asset to supporting digital transformation.
That started to show a snowball effect, as many other firms, which would have normally started with trials, moved directly to a deployment for real implementation and real use case, sometimes for multiple sites at once – trusting the capabilities and benefits private LTE brings on the base of the early adopters.
Another factor for enterprises is access to more licensed spectrum. This started early with a few governments paving the way, particularly in the US, UK, France and Germany recognising the importance of networking for Industry 4.0. But it followed on in 2021 with many more countries joining the trend. As a result, more enterprises can work with network providers in partnership with CSPs to have access to spectrum to deploy private LTE networks, enjoying the benefits of increased productivity and efficiency.
For those markets where spectrum was not available or only needed temporarily (such as on construction sites and at outdoor events), the MulteFire Alliance (MFA) allowed organisations to use unlicensed spectrum for private LTE. But until 2021 there was no device utilising this spectrum. An industrial router for MulteFire was launched last year, allowing private wireless to flourish in markets without spectrum or for use cases where registering for spectrum is not an option.
Finally, MulteFire also opens private wireless for SMEs, which may have bene prevented from doing so previously by the need for registration of licensed or shared spectrum and associated cost.
Progress towards mass adoption will be seen
Although much progress was made in 2021 to lay the foundations, 2022 will be the year these start to come to fruition. More trials and proofs-of-concept will swiftly translate into permanent full deployments, and it is likely that more enterprises will move straight to deployments enhancing real use cases and operations – and in more sites at once.
One example of this happened last year. German technical aircraft services provider Lufthansa Technik, was ahead of the curve and made the leap after completing a year-long 5G networking pilot. This enabled the company to provide virtual engine parts inspection for its civil aviation customers over fast, high-definition video links. Although initially deployed as a business continuity measure in response to pandemic-related travel restrictions, Lufthansa Technik recognised the long-term benefits and moved to a full commercial deployment in 2021.
A discussion about private networks would not be complete without mention of 5G. Currently available private LTE networks have the capability to support a wide range of mission-critical applications in heavy asset industries. It is predicted by most analysts to stay that way until the 5G industrial ecosystem develops in the latter part of this decade. Still, these private wireless networks will pave the way for adding 5G capabilities in anticipation for the upcoming releases (Release 17) of the 5G NR standard this year, and Releases 18 and 19 in a few years.
That will bring the full suite of capabilities to enable even more future Industry 4.0 use cases. Although the full potential of 5G will not be recognised for some time, it’s important for enterprises to prioritise developing a roadmap sooner rather than later. Working with their industrial partners of choice will ensure that 5G will be a standard capability in all machines, sensors and industrial system going forward.
Achieving operational resilience at scale
Going into 2022, enterprises will be firmly focused on using the right technologies to enable their digital transformation. The last 12 months offered industries many learnings and it’s key that these be applied this year, to ensure that organisations build resilience into their operations and have the baseline digitalisation steps needed for Industry 4.0.
The benefits and applications of private LTE and 5G networks mean that these will be at the centre of operations which will help enterprises faster achieve their objectives. By embracing private networks and looking at the broad reaching benefits, heavy asset industries can become more competitive and better prepared for future disruptions – now and beyond.