Private 5G/LTE growing more slowly than expected

Private 5G/LTE growing more slowly than expected

A lack of cutting-edge 5G chips, reseller uptake, and integration challenges will slow the growth of private cellular network use over the next two years, according to IDC.

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Private 5G/LTE networks for the enterprise are becoming increasingly common, but a new forecast from tech analyst firm IDC has found that several headwinds exist for the technology, which could slow its adoption over the next 18 to 24 months.

The report, authored by IDC research manager Patrick Filkins, predicted that private cellular networking infrastructure sales will grow from $2.4 billion in global revenue this year to $5.3 billion in 2027.

The use cases for private cellular networks are numerous and varied, according to IDC, encompassing everything from wide-area applications like grid networks for utility systems and transport networks to local networks for manufacturing facilities or warehouses.

Yet three factors have continued to slow the growth of private cellular, which IDC defines as 5G/LTE networks that don’t share traffic between users, as a public network would.

The first is slower-than-expected availability of the latest 5G chipsets, specifically those for releases 17 and 18 from 3GPP — the cellular technology standards body — which are designed to improve ultra-reliable, low-latency communications.

That creates a drag on particularly advanced new implementations, particularly in the industrial sector, that can be created with private networks, the report said.

In the short-term, that means that LTE will account for the bulk of spending on private cellular networks, according to the report, not to be superseded by 5G spending until 2027.

Difficulties with integrating private cellular into existing network infrastructure is also slowing growth, IDC noted. Particularly in demand is a single-pane management console that can let IT staff set policy, security and traffic rules in one place, although vendors are working to deliver that.

“The idea is to integrate where it is feasible, so as to avoid simply overlaying another network, thus driving complexity and costs up,” the report said.

Finally, the way in which private cellular is sold has slowed its deployment, according to IDC. The technology is mainly delivered, at present, through systems integrators, though carriers, distributors and cloud providers have dipped their toes into the market as well.

“However, for the market to scale faster globally, and for vendors to capture more profits, we foresee the need for a traditional enterprise channel to develop whereby a larger portion of equipment is pushed to market via distributors and value-added resellers,” according to the report.

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