Telefonica is keen to tap into the potential of private mobile networks for businesses in the Latin American region and has signed up Nokia to help.

The Spain-based telecoms group and its vendor partner are talking up their ability to bring about digital transformation for enterprises in Latin America. Through their newly-announced partnership the pair intend to offer Nokia’s portfolio of industrial-grade private wireless network and digitalisation platform solutions, concentrating primarily on what they describe as “the most promising industries in the region;” that’s ports, mining, energy and manufacturing.

“The benefits of LTE and 5G private wireless will enable Industry 4.0 across industries,” said Juan Vicente Martín, Director for B2B at Telefonica Movistar Empresas Hispanoamérica. “With our strategic partner Nokia, we provide the best connectivity, enable greater optimization of operations, achieving important productivity and efficiency rates and contributing to the digitalization of the industrial sectors throughout Latin America.”

As it stands, private mobile networks based on 4G are probably more of an opportunity for Telefonica than 5G-based rollouts, the latest generation of mobile technology being still very much in its infancy in the region.

Indeed, according to the latest iteration of Ericsson’s mobility report, published a week ago, 4G subscriptions accounted for a massive 74% of total mobile connections in the region at the end of last year, with 5G barely figuring at all. The Swedish vendor calculated that there were just 7 million 5G subscriptions in total in Latin America at year-end, while operators added over 60 million 4G subs over the 12 months.

However, Ericsson predicts that 5G uptake will become more meaningful from 2024 onwards and that by the end of 2028 the technology will account for 42% of all mobile subscriptions in the region.

Consumer uptake of 5G does not necessarily directly translate to the state of play in the private wireless market, of course. But it gives us an idea of the maturity of the overall market.

As an aside, last September Ericsson declared a “digital revolution…underway in Latin America,” when it announced the deployment of what it said was the region’s first private 5G standalone network with a wholly on-premises network architecture, operating completely separately from the public mobile network. The customer was conglomerate Nestlé, in Brazil, and the pair worked with network operators Claro and Embratel.

While Nestlé might be the kind of customer telcos and vendors dream about, there is clearly an opportunity to serve smaller and less well-known outfits too, regardless of the state of deployment of 5G.

Nokia noted that it has more the 595 private wireless customers worldwide across various industrial sectors, although it did not mention how many of those are in Latin America. Quite likely a few at most, but as the technology develops in the region, so will the market opportunity.

And Nokia has statistics to help encourage enterprises to make the leap into private wireless.

It cited data first published late last year from a survey carried out with GlobalData of 79 multinationals that have rolled out Nokia industrial-grade private wireless solutions. 80% of respondents said they expect to generate ROI within six months of deployment, it claims.

More than six months on, it would be nice to know if that figure holds true. Nonetheless, that has to be a compelling figure to share with enterprise customers, wherever they are located.

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