It was just recently that the world started seeing private networks deployed across the globe. According to one GSA report, as of February 2022, there were at least 656 organisations operating private networks. Most of them (61%) use LTE, while 21% employ 5G only.
That is a jump from 2021, when the same report catalogued information about 263 companies “known to be deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks or known to have been granted a licence suitable for the deployment of a private LTE or 5G network.”
As the interest in this type of operation increases, researchers are already eyeing what Beyond 5G and 6G technologies can add – or how they can benefit from – private networks, laying out use cases and investigating requirements.
“There will be Mobile Network Operator (MNO) deployments, but there will also be local networks dedicated to specific geographical areas. And those can then be deployed and operated by a variety of stakeholders,” Marja Matinmikko-Blue, Research Director and Professor at the University of Oulu, said in a panel at the 6GSymposium.
“Factories themselves want to establish their networks and, at the same time, it still is an opportunity for the existing big players,” she added.
According to her, spectrum will play a crucial role in deploying private networks, and each country has been dealing with this topic in a different way.
In Japan, for example, the government has set up a new regulation called Local 5G to enable private networks to meet the diverse requirements of public enterprise users and has allocated specific frequency bands for this purpose.
“Since then, we have seen increasing use cases using additional characteristics of the private network,” Nozomu Watanabe, Corporate Executive at NEC, during the same panel.
“Local 5G is now expanding to various industries to resolve sensitive issues and accelerate the industry development. [In order to do so] It is required to not only prepare a network infrastructure that meets specific requirements, but also provide comprehensive solutions from devices, the application services, to deliver a set of vertical solutions.”
He believes that in the Beyond 5G and 6G era, networks will be used to accelerate the industrial expansion and provide the market with values “for a better society and a brighter human daily life.”
Tomorrow’s Use Cases, But Today
For some stakeholders, this private journey towards 6G has begun. That is the case with Wirepas, a Finnish company focused on massive Internet of Things (IoT) solutions. They use DECT-2020 NR, an ETSI standard that helps enable network deployment by anyone and operated by anybody.
Beyond manufacturing plants, which are the most common use case for such a new approach, some of the examples of how we will use private networks in the future are already here with LTE and 5G:
- Smart meters: 920,000 electricity meters spread across the greater Oslo area in Norway
- Smart lockers: Real-time control of lockers directly from the back-end system
- Emergency lighting: Private network deployed in Qudos Bank Arena, in Sydney, connecting 2,500 emergency lighting luminaires that communicate wirelessly across a dynamic self-managed mesh
“What we can see is that there is an increasing variety of different parts of the product mix. So it’s not only one type of network, there can be many different kinds,” said Juho Pirskanen, Principal System Engineer at Wirepas.
According to him, even though the telecommunications sector has been providing these solutions, we will need changes to spread private networks and make them easy to deploy. “If we think about the future requirements, access to the spectrum is the first one. Just the act of requesting or obtaining a license is too complex, too difficult,” he observed.
Regardless of how much policymakers make it easier for stakeholders to get a license, private networks tend to become more popular. “What we know already is that this deployment mode that started in recent years will continue,” said Professor Matinmikko-Blue. “We are moving towards this low-cost operator paradigm to complement the wide-area networks. [So the question is] Where are we in six years’ time?”
Journalist since eight years old, when I would read the newspaper out loud and pretend it was a radio show. Based in São Paulo, I have worked for Brazilian websites as reporter and editor before joining 6GWorld