Nokia was an early entrant in the private wireless space, and today, it boasts more than 560 customers. But it’s still early days, especially when you consider the refresh rate for some industrial equipment. “I would say we onlyhave 560 customers,” said Stephane Daeuble, head of Enterprise Solutions Marketing at Nokia in an interview earlier this month. “It’s already a nice number, and we’ve got about 52% market share nowadays, so we are clearly ahead of everybody in this market. But it’s still early days.”

Given that 560 number, Nokia has probably deployed only a few thousand networks, because each customer may have several, he said.

Globally, Nokia has identified the potential need for 14 million industrial sites to be equipped with private wireless in the coming decade.

“We have barely scratched the surface, but now it’s really starting to accelerate,” he said.

In some industries, “they don’t tend to replace things when they break; they repair them,” he told Fierce on the sidelines of Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. “It’s very rare that you have a totally new factory… The reality is very often, the same machine will be reused for something else.”

Nokia and Ericsson agreed to pool their private wireless customer wins together to get a grip on the size of the industry. Huawei joined in the effort as well, and now there’s a grand total of seven entities contributing this information for the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) to publish.

The other four members of the GSA Private Mobile Networks Special Interest Group are Airspan, Keysight Technologies, Mavenir and

The GSA recently confirmed that it has identified at least 1,077 organizations across 74 countries that are now deploying LTE or 5G private mobile networks. The latest data shows accelerating growth among the contributing members, with a net addition of 122 customer references, up from 955 in the previous quarter.

Of Nokia’s 560 customers, about 23% of them are in North America, and that’s largely thanks to Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS), Daeuble said. Nokia was one of the first to form the CBRS Alliance in 2016 and it took a while for CBRS to get off the ground.

It’s also worth noting that some markets were severely hit by Covid, such as airports, which was a significant market for Nokia. But the broader economic turmoil hasn’t hampered demand in a lot of places. “I would say it’s the opposite,” Daeuble said.

There’s certainly a demand for better fuel consumption. Some trucks used in the mining industry are constantly sending signals for safety reasons and with Wi-Fi, they were stopping a lot, which ended up burning fuel and resulting in lost efficiencies, he said. With LTE, the vehicles are more fuel efficient; they use the brake pads less often and it’s overall better for customers.

Nokia makes devices too

One of the reasons Nokia switched up its logo – which it announced at MWC 2023 – is to signify to people that it’s a B2B brand and not a consumer brand. Nokia used to make phones years ago but sold that business off. It’s now focused on software and infrastructure.

However, about two years ago, it started making ruggedized phones that can be used in the types of industrial environments that also use private networks. Nokia saw a gap in the availability of appropriate devices, so it decided to make them, he said.

According to Nokia, its industrial portfolio of ruggedized devices is designed to ensure reliability and continuity of operations in the most arduous and remote environments, such as an offshore platform, a busy factory floor or in a mineshaft. 

Interestingly, at the height of 5G hype, there were some cases where the customer insisted on 5G, but for the most part, the 5G ecosystem is not fully baked and therefore 4G is meeting the needs for private wireless, according Daeuble. About 85% of deployments are 4G, he said.

The hype cycle

Are private networks overhyped? It’s a prevalent question these days. “I think it probably was overhyped,” in the sense that everybody expected it would explode, he conceded.  

“While clearly we are seeing very strong growth,” the view of Nokia is it’s been in the enterprise business for 35 years, so it’s not as if it’s a brand new space. But it’s dealing with an industrial refresh rate for equipment that is more like 50 or 30 years.

Asked about the source for Nokia’s 52% market share, a company representative pointed to this report from the GSA.

Dell’Oro Group SVP Stefan Pongratz told Fierce that Dell’Oro isn’t sharing its exact revenue share estimates yet, but “our preliminary assessment is that Nokia is well positioned with a private wireless small cell RAN revenues share in the 30%+ range for the full year 2022.”

“Given the extreme variations in the number of sites per customer and cells per sites for the various use cases, it goes without a saying that the revenue share estimates will likely differ from any market share data based on customer contracts,” he added.

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