Private wireless: Ericsson and Nokia plot different paths

Private wireless networks are emerging as a major focus for Europe's two biggest telco equipment vendors. Nokia and Ericsson are both charging hard into the private wireless space, but with slightly different approaches. 

Nokia is making headway with customers who can access spectrum without the help of a mobile network operator. In Japan, for example, where the government has designated spectrum for enterprise 5G use, Nokia recently announced an alliance with Conexio, Hitachi Kokusai, NS (Nippon Steel) Solutions, Omron and Sharp to accelerate adoption of 5G-based enterprise industry solutions. 

In the U.S., Nokia is helping utilities deploy private wireless networks using a mix of carrier and enterprise spectrum. Utilities have a history of deploying their own networks to ensure critical communications, and are now starting to experiment with private LTE for other use cases, including inspection and neutralization of power lines, metering and video file sharing. One of Nokia's utility customers, San Diego Gas & Electric, is set to be the first U.S. utility to deploy a private network using CBRS spectrum.

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Nokia has two private wireless solutions. Its Digital Automation Cloud is a pre-integrated solution which can be offered to enterprise customers as a service, while its Modular Private Wireless solution is more customizable. Both solutions use Nokia's core network software and can use 4G or 5G radio equipment.

Ericsson partners with carriers

Ericsson sees private wireless as a major opportunity for its carrier customers and has positioned itself as the vendor that can help them stake their claims. So far in 2021, the company has already announced deployments in the mining and manufacturing industries, both in partnership with carriers.

Russian operator MTS has partnered with Ericsson to create a private wireless network for steel and mining company EVRAZ. At the Sheregeshskaya mine in south-central Russia, the companies will deploy a private network that can support both LTE and 5G. The network will enable voice radio communications, video broadcasting, emergency notifications, dispatching, positioning and autonomous control of mining equipment.

Taiwanese operator Far EasTone worked with Ericsson to build a private network for chipmaker MediaTek, which could ultimately use a 5G network to run a factory that will make 5G chipsets. Far EasTone is using both 3.5 GHz and 28 GHz spectrum for the private network, which will support MediaTek's headquarters as well as three partner manufacturing sites.

”The private network serves as a platform for innovation," said JS Pan, MediaTek general manager for wireless communication systems and partnerships. "Compared to the traditional lab setup, it broadens our testing coverage and expedites development progress.”

Although Ericsson approaches the private wireless opportunity through service provider partnerships, the vendor doesn't just wait around for service providers to find the customers. Ericsson engages with system integrators and other channel partners in an effort to sell enterprise customers on the value of private wireless networks that use carrier spectrum. As carriers roll out 5G networks, they hope to be able to use the same network resources to serve more than one use case, a concept referred to as network slicing.

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Industry 4.0

Both Ericsson and Nokia have identified Industry 4.0 as a major driver of private wireless. Hyper-fast, highly reliable and secure 5G connectivity has a crucial role to play in enabling the digital transformation necessary for Industry 4.0 use cases," said Donny Janssens, head of Nokia Enterprise Japan, in announcing the company's partnership with five Japanese companies.

Ericsson has underlined its commitment to Industry 4.0 by creating a partner ecosystem that includes device makers, application developers and system integrators. The company says that by 2030 there will be 4.7 billion wireless modules across smart manufacturing floors, with a value of over $1 trillion.