BARCELONA—Sort of like putting a punctuation mark at the end of a sentence, the last day of MWC 2023 included a session titled: Are private networks overhyped?

Throughout the show, private wireless was everywhere. Everyone was talking about it. Exhibits proclaimed they had the best solutions. New partnerships and new deployments were announced.

But ask a panel of wireless executives who work in the business if it’s overhyped and they’re likely to say: not so much.

Divya Wakankar, VP, Enterprise at BICS, was more skeptical about the state of private wireless than the others. She said the technology is great and BICS has been in the space for a long time, but she thinks it’s a bit overhyped at the moment. “I would really like to see the use cases” and more devices become available, she said.

That said, some of the use cases that are evident in Europe are public safety entities looking for security, scalability, reliability and the ability to move assets from one place to another, she said.

As far as NTT is concerned, its challenges are less about determining whether private wireless is real or not and more about what spectrum can be leveraged, what devices are available and how to deploy it in an efficient manner, said Shahid Ahmed, EVP New Ventures & Innovation at NTT.

From NTT’s experience, factories are looking at removing cabling and wires from the factory floors, and private wireless can cover an area much more affordably than rival technologies. Reliability and coverage inside plants also are driving demand. 

A number of NTT’s industrial clients say they want it but it’s too complex.

“It’s still a cellular network,” Ahmed said. “It’s always changing,” unlike Wi-Fi that’s pretty much fixed. “We take the pain out of managing a complex, sophisticated network for them.”

According to Caroline Chan, VP in the network and edge group at Intel, the answer to whether private wireless is overhyped is a hard “no.” The market approach is chaotic, but that doesn’t mean it’s overhyped, she said.

“We’re in the process of sorting things out,” she said. “There might not even be one approach. There might be multiple approaches.”

What is missing?

Ahmed said they’re just beginning to see more devices come to the market, not just ruggedized phones but cameras and other devices that support 5G natively. “We’re just beginning to see those make it to the market,” he said, noting that Zebra is beginning to ship CBRS-based terminals, scanners and other devices.

When it comes to spectrum, “I think there are still come challenges associated even with CBRS in the U.S. It’s not exactly conducive toward high-performing networks. You can get CBRS to support 5G speeds, but it’s still challenging,” he said.

Chan agreed that in the U.S., CBRS is not the end all be all and the FCC should allocate more spectrum for industries. It doesn’t have to be like the C-band that the operators are deploying, but there needs to be dedicated spectrum for manufacturers and agricultural industries, for example, she said.

“We’re on the way there to scale deployment,” she said. “We’re certainly on the right track. We just need to get the market settled down more, less chaotic.”

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