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Private Wireless – 2020, the year everything changed

Listen to the podcast discusses the year enterprises and government pivoted to private wireless and why 260+ companies chose it to improve their competitive edge.

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Stephane Daeuble

Head of Marketing for Nokia’s Enterprise Solutions division

Stephane Daeuble, Head of Marketing for Nokia’s Enterprise Solutions Division, in conversation with James Blackman of Enterprise IoT Insights, looks back at 2020, which he sees as a kind of tipping point for the private wireless market.

Key points:

  • Rapprochement between OT and IT
  • The private market is accelerating towards exit velocity
  • Governments are now on the private spectrum bandwagon
  • Unlicensed spectrum solutions take a big step forward with Nokia
  • National mobile operators are getting into the game

Podcast at a glance

Key factors in the increasing adoption of private wireless networks

Industry 4.0 projects tend to be substantial in scale and, for them to be executed well, an enterprise’s IT and OT teams need to come together. This also applies to the private wireless digitalization aspect of projects that support this industry.

We are seeing increasing evidence that the IT/OT divide is being bridged. Previously, the OT needs of asset-heavy industries were driven by the OT team. But following the transformation from analog to digital that came with the end of Industry 3.0, the involvement of IT became essential.

2020 was the first year in which we saw this happening. Increasing numbers of company-wide Industry 4.0 projects are now taking place where the OT and IT teams come to the table together to define a project and work towards a common goal.

This is a very important trend that will help to accelerate the adoption of private wireless in today’s market.

When will private wireless be a mass market?

It would not be accurate to say that private wireless has become a mass market yet. This is despite the fact that Nokia estimates that the potential market could benefit up to 15 million commercial venues, and that increasing numbers of enterprises are making new private LTE and 5G deployments.

It is clear that private wireless is a concept that people in our industry now understand. It is also clear that many stakeholders are starting to pay close attention to the potential of mobile technology for transforming the industry – in the same way that mobile phones have transformed consumers’ lives in the last 30 years.

But it will take many years before this is a mass market, even though there are obvious signs of acceleration in adoption. Between 2015 and the end of 2019, Nokia secured about 120 customers in this space. In 2020 alone, that number almost doubled.

Ecosystem and spectrum are crucial to adoption of 5G networks

There are two key factors linked to adoption: ecosystem and spectrum.


On its own, a private wireless network is not much use. Today, we are comfortable that there is a strong ecosystem of 4.9G and LTE industrial devices that support almost all the use cases of heavy segment, heavy asset industry that we are addressing.

You can now find a variety of industrial systems that include connected factory tools and 500-tonne autonomous mining trucks that can connect to private wireless networks.


Spectrum was always seen as a challenge to the deployment of private wireless networks. But there has been positive momentum ever since 2016 when the US regulator, the Federal Communications Commission, agreed to release some shared spectrum to a wide variety of users.

In 2019 we saw France follow the US model by releasing spectrum, both for critical segments such as transport, utility and public safety, but also for industrial sites. Germany, Japan and the UK followed suit.

Spectrum is no longer an issue. More and more countries are realizing the potential impact of private wireless in making industry more efficient, resilient and sustainable. In many countries, there is a healthy amount of spectrum that can be shared.

In all cases, there are industrial segments that need wide area coverage where different types of spectrum can be used. Typically, you need a lower spectrum to enable you to cost-effectively cover a whole country with only a few hundred cells.

What role does unlicensed spectrum play in private wireless?

With a large market available, comprising a range of organizations of different types and sizes, unlicensed spectrum is a key enabler – and potentially the last piece of the puzzle that turns private wireless into a mass-market commodity that is suitable for even small companies.

Where licensed spectrum can be too rigid, unlicensed spectrum can be a viable option. We have seen a couple of examples where it is the ideal answer:

  1. Short-term construction projects: Companies may set up a site for six months or a couple of years to build a tower – then they want to move on to another site. You don’t want to have to ask for a spectrum every time you move; it’s too complex and costly.
  2. Sports events: In the case of elite tours in sports such as golf, surfing and skiing, you need top-quality coverage at a particular venue for a short time.

There is plenty of scope for unlicensed spectrum to be used to complement private wireless networks where there may not be enough bandwidth for capacity-heavy use cases in the vertical license spectrum. There is no reason why you cannot effectively leverage different types of spectrum to give you the different capabilities you need.

Nokia was the first to demonstrate MulteFire’s potential in 2017; we’re the founding member of the MulteFire Alliance. We started developing our own industrial modems to make MulteFire private wireless a reality, with the end result of bringing to market the world’s first end-to-end private wireless solution based on unlicensed spectrum.

How are CSPs progressing with their private wireless strategy?

2020 was a pivotal year in which traditional CSPs realised it was important for them to create a strategy and an offering in the private wireless space. Nokia has partnered with AT&T and Verizon, and with others in Europe.

This is important because many companies that rely on a CSP for nationwide connectivity would prefer to source a private wireless network through their trusted CSP.

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