UScellular adds private wireless to its repertoire

  • UScellular already has a handful of private wireless network deals, including a network it built with the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

  • The operator is initially focused on certain verticals – utilities, manufacturing, logistics and warehouses

  • The Connected Enterprise Lab private wireless network has four radios covering 3,000 square feet and operates in unlicensed CBRS spectrum

UScellular is adding private wireless networks to its repertoire of business services. The Tier 2 operator partnered with Rockwell Automation to build the Connected Enterprise Lab, which will serve as a testbed to potential private wireless customers.

The 4G/5G private wireless network, which is located at Rockwell Automation’s Mayfield Heights, Ohio, location, uses four radio dots to provide connectivity to 3,000 square feet. The network runs on unlicensed Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum and can support up to 1,000 devices simultaneously.

Kim Kerr, senior vice president, enterprise sales and operations for UScellular, said that the private network will be used by Rockwell to demonstrate to its customers how a private cellular network might help them improve or automate their manufacturing and assembly line processes.

The need for 5G

The network, which was completed in March, is currently in its test phase and has not been used by customers yet. However, once it is available, Kerr expects Rockwell customers to be able to see how a private wireless network might improve their processes and also how it will augment their existing Wi-Fi networks, not replace them.

“There is no replacing of Wi-Fi networks. Wi-Fi will always play a role,” Kerr said. “But there are applications that legacy Wi-Fi does not enable.”

For example, Kerr explained that low-latency applications such as autonomous-guided vehicles, will need 5G, and Rockwell will be able to show customers what this type of network will enable and how it will impact their business.

UScellular hopes that once Rockwell’s customers see the benefits of the private 5G network, they will then enlist the operator’s help in designing and implementing their own private cellular network. “UScellular knows how to operate networks. This is one of our core capabilities,” Kerr said.

Besides Rockwell’s Connected Enterprise Lab, UScellular also has deployed a 4G/5G private wireless network at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s Connected Systems Institute manufacturing research facility. The university is using the network to connect with 5G IoT sensors and controls.

This network uses Rockwell’s automation software and Ericsson’s private wireless 4G/5G radio network equipment.

Besides the manufacturing area, Kerr said that UScellular’s private wireless business is getting traction with utilities. The company has contracts with three utilities to provide private wireless networks.

By the numbers

Yesterday, Dell'Oro Group released the latest numbers and forecast for private wireless radio access network (RAN) revenue growth. While revenue slowed in the fourth quarter of 2023 on a year-over-year basis, the firm said full year growth was 40% last year. Private wireless comprised approximately 2% of the overall RAN market.

“Although public RAN is still fueling the lion’s share of the overall RAN capex and the overall investment levels are tracking below some of the initial projections provided by the vendors in the early part of the 5G enterprise hype cycle, the fact of the matter is that private wireless is now growing at a formidable pace,” said Stefan Pongratz, Vice President at Dell’Oro Group, in a press release about the new numbers. “This stands in contrast to public RAN and enterprise WLAN – both segments are projected to contract in 2024."

Dell'Oro said Huawei, Nokia and Ericsson are the top private wireless RAN suppliers.

"The evolving scope of private wireless taken together with the fact that the $20 B+ enterprise RAN opportunity remains largely untapped is spurring interest from a broad array of participants across the ecosystem. Still, the traditional RAN suppliers are currently well-positioned in this initial phase," stated the firm.