Markets and Trends

Private Enterprise 5G/LTE Mobile Networks are Team Sports & Services Firms are the Captains

There is no one way to architect and design an enterprise private 5G network. Explore the options and the roles service firms play in them with IDC's Leslie Rosenberg.
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There is a lot of buzz and anticipation surrounding the potential use cases and new business models that are enabled by enterprise private 5G mobile networks. Private 5G networks create a compelling story beyond connectivity which are driving transformational business models, new ways of working, and exciting use cases. Private 5G is more about edge, IoT and Industry 4.0 then it is about transporting data with ultra-low latency, high availability, and exceptional speed. While all those technological benefits are true, I see the impact to be bigger, more complex, and farther reaching across people, processes, culture, and opportunity.

Over the last eighteen months, I have been having dozens of interesting conversations with providers of professional services for private enterprise 5G networks across networking manufacturers, global systems integrators, and telecommunications providers around the globe. Each constituent has a differentiated point of view and approach for developing offerings for private 5G networks. After each conversation or review of a vendor blog post or article, I am inspired by the innovation that the provider has created, leveraging an amalgam of tools, technologies, ecosystem partners, use cases, PoC resources underpinned by a distinct point of view. Then a few days later I will have another call and yet another approach is presented, and the opportunities and use cases for private 5G network possibilities is expanded.

What I have learned is that there is no one standardized way to architect and design an enterprise private 5G network. To use a favorite analyst-ism, “it depends”. It depends on the use case, business case, the vertical, the geography, the outcome, the existing network assets (wired and wireless), the people, the processes, and the skills. But mostly, it depends on what the enterprise is looking to accomplish by implementing a private 5G network.

 A few themes emerged from my conversations.

  • Enterprise private 5G networks require an ecosystem, bringing together verticalized applications, devices, and processes coupled with connectivity solutions and software.
  • Enterprise private 5G solutions will drive significant process change, new ways of working and will require new skills for those impacted by 5G.
  • Enterprise private 5G networks are a team sport! No one hardware, software or services company can do it all.

Who are the Players?

I spoke with 3 different types of providers of professional services for enterprise private 5G networks, and here is my analysis on how I see how each player approaches the opportunity. 

  • Network equipment providers, such as Nokia, Ericsson, and Huawei approach the discussion from the core network and radio access network (RAN) perspective, highlighting new switches, gateways, access points and other connectivity products which can be designed and built for a private 5G network. These vendors have small (except for Huawei) professional services business units that can provide strategy, design, architectural best practices, implementation services and knowledge sharing about the technologies and devices. All of them rely on relationships with a broader ecosystem of partners to help complete the solution, and in many cases leverage the ecosystem for their consulting and integration expertise.
  • Telecom providers have invested significantly in their own 5G infrastructure, back end systems (OSS/BSS) as well as their ability to acquire and provide spectrum (more relevant in the US, where in other regions acquiring spectrum is a different conversation) and have in-production use cases, geographic coverage, and have been first to market with offers make likely partners.
  • Global Systems Integrators come in two flavors, in my opinion: those that have a legacy in building wired and wireless networks and IT infrastructure for enterprises, and those that are more application and business process centric. Both bring vertical expertise, an understanding of business and operational processes, and C-level relationships to the conversation. Systems Integrators can agnostically bring together best of breed partners for a verticalized solution, create business and use cases across a broad range of industries, evaluate and redefine operational processes, and implement at global scale.

There is no one right choice on who an enterprise ultimately selects as their partner. Through conversations I’ve had with these services firms as well as enterprises, coupled with new end user research we’ve just conducted, I’m learning that private 5G networks will be a hybrid solution, combining new and existing networking assets, WIFI, 3G, 4G LTE and 5G connectivity architectures.  The strategy and design of constructing these networks will be extremely complex and the operations will be even more complicated. And this structure has not even begun to consider the multitude of endpoints, devices, applications, and data that will traverse these networks.

Enterprise private 5G networks are designed to create new business models, new ways of working and new opportunities.  It is an enabler and an accelerant of IoT, Edge and Industry 4.0 use cases. It is not just another connectivity conversation. That said, according to the research, we found that when enterprises are evaluating a services firm to partner with, they stated that their top 3 requirements in a partner included networking, operational, and security expertise. It goes without saying, that when you say network, you also must consider security, and given the infinite expansion of new network endpoints, security considerations will be paramount.

IDC 2021 Top 3 Reasons Buyers Chose their 5G/LTE/mobile provider

5G Conversations Go Beyond the Network

What became clear during my discussions was that the services companies were almost more excited about the realm of possibilities for developing new use cases, revenue streams and new processes for clients versus the technology architecture and implementation. These services firms have been actively developing ecosystems across niche end point devices and applications, industry experts, and investing in labs and proofs of concept for showcasing new use cases. 

Additionally, they have been developing roadmaps for helping customers understand the impact on their internal processes and knowledge transfer workshops to ensure adoption of new processes for these environments is successful. These types of non-technical, more process transformational engagements have become compelling for systems integrators who have not traditionally played in the networking space as well for those that are well entrenched in the space. As such, we will expect to see new alliances, partnerships, and points of view to bring private 5G network solutions to market.

Want to learn more about enterprise readiness and attitudes towards deploying private 5G networks and the partners they choose to help them build these networks? Read “ Professional Services for Enterprise Private Cellular/5G/Mobile Networks Study”:

Research Vice President, Network Life-Cycle Services and Infrastructure Services