For private wireless, 2021 should be a very good year
After the year we just had, 2021 is holding a lot of promise on a number of fronts. For Nokia’s enterprise division, which is responsible for bringing our private wireless offering to market, we actually made big strides in 2020 and are looking forward to doubling down on our success in the coming year.
In the last 15 months, we have gained twice the number of private wireless customers compared to the number we had gained since we started in 2015. The momentum is building as our large enterprise customers realize that the key to Industry 4.0 is industrial-strength wireless based on 4.9G/LTE and 5G.
Since before Nokia’s world-first deployment of a private wireless network in the early part of the last decade, we have always known that there was big potential for industrial wireless, but it is good to see that our hard work is now being recognized by industry analysts and the media as well.
James Blackman at Enterprise IoT Insights recently canvassed a number of industry analysts to see how well Nokia was doing in the private wireless space. I won’t quote them all here. The article is worth a read, but quickly, they mostly agreed that Nokia has taken an early lead in the enterprise private wireless market. Leo Gergs, research analyst at ABI Research, did the best job of summing up how we are doing, “Fairly well, especially when it comes to attracting business from large enterprises.” He went on to note that “Private cellular is one of the key enablers for Industry 4.0.”
In a September 2020 blog post, Kitty Weldon wrote that “Nokia is leading the pack in the private wireless segment,” and Caroline Gabriel, Co-founder and Research Director at Rethink Technology Research agreed “Nokia has a leadership position in 4G and 5G private networks.” These sentiments were echoed on December 3 by Will Townsend, Senior Analyst, Networking Practice at Moor Insights and Strategy, in a tweet “@nokia is definitely the leader among their traditional peers.”
While it is great to see this kind of recognition from the analysts, I don’t think we should get complacent. Private wireless networks are just getting going. What is really positive about this year is that our solutions are gaining traction, but more importantly, enterprises and the analyst community are both understanding the key role this technology will play in enabling the digitalization needed for Industry 4.0.
Now, to get away from tooting our own horn, there are other private wireless bright spots worth noting in 2020 such as device ecosystems and spectrum.
It is one thing to rollout a private wireless network, but the bigger question is “can your devices connect to all that high-performing, low-latency predictable wireless connectivity?” 2020 is the year that we can definitively say “yes” to that question. Most of the machine, sensor, tool, vehicle and personal protective equipment (PPE) now available can come equipped with an LTE/4.9G chipset integrated. And for larger machines, vehicles and cameras that don’t have an integrated chip, there are now many rugged external LTE modems and routers to use to connect them. This makes Industry 4.0 transformation possible in virtually any situation and industrial segment.
It took five years to get to where we are today with the 4.9G/LTE industrial ecosystem. To accelerate the 5G SA ecosystem, Nokia is working hard with all its industrial ecosystem partners to test and validate 5G SA. This will give device manufacturers the confidence to integrate 5G chipsets into their next generation of systems, once the 5G R16/17/18 standard-compatible industrial chipsets becomes available. Based on the lesson learned from 4.9G/LTE, the growing market for private wireless, and the market potential of 5G slicing for reliable wide area connectivity, we hope the ramp up will be shorter this time round.
While the 5G ecosystem is growing, 4.9G/LTE can handle the lion’s share of Industry 4.0 use cases and is a great place to start on the road to full 5G. In fact, most of our new customer deployments in 2020 are still based on 4.9G/LTE, and we anticipate that the majority of our customers will be running 4.9G/LTE and 5G in hybrid configurations for at least the next five to ten years. This is the normal configuration even for many of the 30+ Nokia customers who have currently deployed 5G private wireless.
Spectrum also passed a tipping point in 2020. Of course, there is CBRS in the US, but we are also seeing strong recognition from governments worldwide with spectrum becoming available in France, Germany, the UK and Japan amongst many others. 2021 will see even more countries releasing spectrum for the use of industrials as the link between private wireless and Industry 4.0 is made. Governments now realize the potential it has to make a genuine difference for their industrial sectors going forward. In these countries and other that do not have enterprise spectrum, there are more and more options with many CSPs jumping on the private wireless bandwagon and making their spectrum available. And, on the unlicensed spectrum front, we are anticipating some positive news on MulteFire in the pipeline for 2021…
So, despite the pandemic, manufacturing slowdowns, tumultuous politics and record wildfires that most of us will remember about this last year, there are a few bright spots in the area of technological innovation. And we’re proud to say that Nokia’s private wireless business is one of them.