Private 5G or a network slice? Depends on the use case, say BT and Telenor

  • BT, Telenor and Verizon see growing maturity of private wireless in certain key verticals

  • Sometimes, network slicing is a more suitable option depending on customer needs

  • BT again indicates that its standalone 5G network will be launched later in 2024

The reality today is, said Chris Keone, director of Division X at BT Business, enterprises are not actually phoning up operators and saying, hey, I’d like to buy a private network from you. “They say, here’s a problem I’m facing, help me solve it. And we’ll help them navigate through and figure out the right way to do that using the right network expertise,” he said.

Keone was speaking during this week’s Private Wireless Network Summit hosted by Fierce Network, when he and some of his peers discussed opportunities and current trends in the private wireless sphere.

Broadly, the message from the operator participants was positive, and they cited growing demand in sectors such as automotive, manufacturing, healthcare, ports, logistics and sports and entertainment venues.

Indeed, Terje Jensen, SVP, global business security officer and head of network and cloud technology strategy at Telenor, said many industries are now moving forward on private networks, while Jennifer Artley, SVP, 5G Acceleration at Verizon Business, said the operator’s “funnel is exploding” and “our business is really converting these opportunities into real, live dynamic, transformative differentiated networks for our customers.”

However, as Keone observed, amid the burgeoning interest in private networks, there is also often a case for network slicing to help solve less complex requirements.

“Slicing is definitely something that is playing a big part, especially as we are moving to switch on our 5G standalone network at some point later this year. What role does that play now in our private network strategy is a very interesting one to start co-creating with our customers,” he said.

For example, slicing on the public network could be what is required to solve a particular pain point. “It’s certainly going to be something that we will aim to properly prove the value,test and explore later this year,” Keone said.

Jensen said Telenor follows a similar approach to BT by starting with the customer need, discovering how to solve the initial use cases, and then driving more value from those.

“We can deploy private networks in two ways,” he said. Either on dedicated on-premises equipment, “which could be potentially be fully autonomous. And the second is that it’s part of our public network. And you can do slicing in both of these deployments … whether you need to do slicing from the first use case depends on the needs.”

5G moves to the fore

Keone also said BT is “definitely seeing more of a trend and demand for 5G now versus 4G” for private wireless networks, in large part owing to the growing awareness of 5G capabilities such as high bandwidth and ultra-low latency. 

This view certainly tallies with a new report from analyst firm SNS Telecom & IT, titled "Private 5G Networks: 2024 – 2030," which suggests the real-world impact of private 5G networks “is becoming ever more visible, with diverse practical and tangible benefits.”

“Compared to LTE technology, private 5G networks can address far more demanding performance requirements in terms of throughput, latency, reliability, availability and connection density,” the report said. “In particular, 5G’s URLLC and mMTC capabilities, along with a future-proof transition path to 6G networks in the 2030s, have positioned it as a viable alternative to physically wired connections for industrial-grade communications between machines, robots and control systems.”

The report predicts that annual investments in private 5G networks for vertical industries will grow at a CAGR of about 42% between 2024 and 2027, eventually accounting for nearly $3.5 billion by the end of 2027.