There was a panel at MWC 2023 in Barcelona last week titled “Are Private Networks Over-Hyped?”

According to the panelists, the answer is: not so much.

But according to Dell’Oro Vice President Stefan Pongratz: private wireless networks are a bit over-hyped at least in terms of the revenue their generating for vendors.

According to Dell’Oro’s data, the total private wireless small cell market outside of China exceeds $100 million. But Pongratz indicated that’s not very much. “Commercial private wireless revenues are still so small. We estimate private wireless small cells is still less than 1% of the overall public-plus-private RAN market in 2022.”

He did concede that the private wireless small cell market outside of China is growing at double digits. “It’s heading in the right direction,” said Pongratz. “A lot of suppliers see good things for 2023.”

But in 2022, Dell’Oro adjusted its projections downward — both mid-year and in January 2023 — for private wireless commercial revenues reported by the suppliers.

Top private wireless vendors

According to Dell’Oro, the top three private wireless small cell vendors in the world are Nokia, Huawei and Ericsson.

Celona has said that its goal is to overtake Nokia in private wireless. Celona CEO Rajeev Shah said that based on Nokia’s public earnings reports, the company seems to be garnering about 30-35 private wireless customers a quarter and has about 515 of these customers in total. Shah said these numbers aren’t huge, and the industry has a long way to go.

But Pongratz is skeptical whether Celona is a contender among even the top five vendors. It all depends on how you look at the market.

Celona likes to look at the market based on the number of customers deploying private wireless. Also, Celona, until very recently, only focused on the U.S. And the company says it’s not interested in large-scale wide-area-network (WAN) private wireless — an area where Ericsson leads. It’s focused on small to medium enterprises.

Conversely, Dell’Oro looks at the market from a revenue perspective, and that’s how it determined that Celona is not among the top five vendors.

Macro vs small cell

Pongratz said the private wireless market can also be segmented by macro versus small cell. He said private wireless has been around for quite some time — since 2G. But traditionally, it was used as a wide area network (WAN), using the 3GPP definition for non-public networks. Often these networks deployed macros for very large organizations such as utility companies.

“The shiny new object is really the local campus deployments; that’s really small cells,” said Pongratz. “There will be a component of the new shiny that is also WAN, like a car manufacturer that could use both macros and small cells.”

But regardless, whether the private wireless market is segmented by macro or small cell, Dell’Oro still finds the top three suppliers are Nokia, Huawei and Ericsson.

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