Athonet makes private 5G club to handle the sell-build-run of CBRS networks in the US
Consortiums, alliances, ecosystems – there are too many to count, and too many to report. But news that Athonet has started its own private 5G club in the US, to combine and recommend suppliers for deploying cellular networks in shared and unshared CBRS spectrum, is worth reporting on the grounds it shows the Italian firm’s developing confidence as a ringleader in the market, and does a good job, as well, to explain the whole private 5G circus.
Someone on a stand at Critical Communications World (CCW) in Vienna last week said Athonet has deployed 4,000 private networks already. Who knows, really? But it strengthens the suspicion that recent estimates from analysts, that there are 1,200 private LTE/5G networks today, are off the mark. It also makes reports that China has 5,000, alone, seem less remarkable – and that repeated claims by Nokia, notably, that it has 800-odd, seem like small beer.
Of course, none of this is verified; it is hearsay, only. Someone is telling porky-pies. And what constitutes a private cellular network, anyway? In an aside, someone at CCW said big mobile operators are counting all sorts as such. And Deutsche Telekom, with real candour, told another event in London earlier this month that Germany, the home of Industrie 4.0, an early mover with ‘vertical’ spectrum, that just 15 percent of (about 110) private spectrum licencees have so far committed to commercial (or planned-commercial) operations; the rest are doing tests, it said.
Which tallies with the line from ABI Research, in a recent Enterprise IoT Insights report, that private 5G tests are time-limited, with future governmental and institutional funds shortly pegged for 6G. But then, Quortus, before it was acquired by Ericsson, told Enterprise IoT Insights it had deployed 2,000 already. Federated Wireless said in March at MWC that it has 90,000 ‘nodes’ (cell sites) under management in CBRS, and is adding 1,000 radios per week.
The “total system” in the US has stood up 220,000, so far (by March), it said – a number that must, by the original wide-area network (WAN) definition of cellular, and by all the claims that 5G is being installed in complex industrial campuses for coverage and penetration, constitute many thousands of enterprise networks. Except that Deutsche Telekom, in London, suggested the German conversion rate, from licence to deployment, is common across the globe. “I see the same in the US,” it said. China is the exception, it added.
Whatever, whatever; the point is to write about Athonet, because it has pulled together a dozen suppliers in a new ‘5G Consortium’ in the US to combine on the sell-build-run aspects of private 5G provision – and, to remark, that it is a move that befits its perceived “leadership” (there, we quoted it) in the developing private 5G market. The list of 12 is as follows: AWS, BearCom, BEC Technologies, BLINQ Networks, DIGI International, Federated Wireless, Fortress Solutions, Google Cloud Platform, KVM, Multi-Tech, Supermicro, and VMWare.
These are the companies, says Athonet, to go to if you want an end-to-end private LTE 5G network; Athonet is the other, of course, presented as the default choice for core networking components, to make it a ‘baker’s dozen’ for end-to-end private 5G supply and management. There is no Nokia or Ericsson for RAN supply, nor (at this stage) JMA Wireless or Airspan Networks, which have emerged as prominent RAN brands for private 5G (the latter is a familiar partner, actually, for Athonet rival Druid Software).
The rest are specified for eight other tasks, which neatly map the private 5G design, installation, and management process, as follows: ‘radio’ network (BLINQ Networks); gateways, or ‘edge appliances’ (Supermicro Computer); end ‘devices’ (BEC Technologies, BLINQ, DIGI International, Multi-Tech Systems); network operating system, or ‘hypervisor’ (KVM, VMWare); network ‘orchestration’ (AWS, Google Cloud Platform), system integration, or ‘deployment’ (BearCom, Federated Wireless); and network management, or ‘post delivery support’ (Federated Wireless, Fortress Solutions). Syniverse Technologies is also involved somewhere.
The so-called consortium is a work-in-progress, clearly, and is focused on the US market, for now; new brands will be added, and no one is listed at all, as yet, in the eighth/ninth category: for ‘distribution’, detailed to “gather the hardware and software components the network designer recommends for the system, so everything is available when the installers come to deploy the network”.
Athonet said the group will “mutually promote an ecosystem of products and services” for LTE and 5G in the CBRS band, and also conduct interoperability testing between their wares. Simon O’Donnell, president of Athonet USA, said: “Some companies aren’t sure of what technologies [and products] are needed… and work together, or the companies… to help design, implement, and maintain a private network.”
The consortium puts right this mystery and confusion, he said. “The 5G Consortium simplifies the process and helps enterprises understand what is needed and find the right solution.” A series of quotes were provided with the press notice. Mike Owen, chief technology officer at Bearcom, said: “One of the biggest challenges customers face when adopting new technology is how to perform the implementation… We partner with other organisations, through the 5G Consortium, to navigate any obstacles while working directly with the customer on their journey to success.”
Chris Swan, chief commercial officer at Federated Wireless, said: “Next-generation wireless solutions are the key to helping enterprises realise the full potential of their cloud edge and IoT investments. The challenge is that most customers don’t know where to start. That’s why Federated Wireless is thrilled to support the 5G Consortium in reaching more customers, specifically by helping design, deliver, and manage private wireless solutions that meet the exact use case requirements and goals of the business.”
BEC Technologies talked about “the opportunity to work with well-established industry partners to drive adoption of private mobile networks.” BLiNQ Networks talked about a need for “robust and reliable wireless solutions which are easy to deploy and are accessible to customers who have varying network requirements.” Digi International said private 5G will be a “catalyst for remote connectivity, infrastructure modernization, and digital transformation.”
Fortress Solutions said the consortium will provide an “interoperability safe-haven” for multi-vendor LTE and 5G CBRS networks in the US. Dan Quant, vice president of strategic development at MultiTech Systems, commented: “Compatibility amongst device, network and service members of the consortium reduces the time and costs to securely digitise assets and workflows.”
Supermicro Computer called it a “timely collaborative response to enterprise demands”. Syniverse Technologies, not mentioned among the dozen on the consortium page on the Athonet website, said Athonet had “assembled an impressive vendor ecosystem to promote the deployment of private networks, an increasingly relevant and widespread market interest”.