The status of 4G/5G private mobile in the power utilities sector
- Sep 1, 2023 11:42 am GMT
Private mobile networks are often part of a broader digital transformation program, including cloud networking and advanced technologies like AI, machine learning, and data analytics. These networks increasingly utilize mobile connectivity to enhance their capabilities. As an early adopter of private mobile, the power utilities sector is playing a major role in driving the global deployment of 4G and 5G as a key technology in enabling this connectivity.
Why are organizations deploying private mobile networks?
A private mobile network – also called a Non-Public Network (NPN) provides mobile services for a dedicated and clearly defined set of users or ‘things’ that are usually part of a single organization.
New data from the Global mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) suggests that the demand for private mobile networks based on 4G LTE and increasingly 5G technologies is being driven by the escalating data, security, digitization and mobility requirements of modern enterprise and government entities.
Organizations of all types are combining connected systems with big data and analytics to transform operations, increase automation and efficiency or to deliver new services to their users. Wireless networking with LTE or 5G enables these transformations to take place even in the most dynamic, remote, or highly secure environments while offering the scale benefits of a technology that has already been deployed worldwide.
How to track the status of the market
To frame, bring together and lead the Private Mobile Networks ecosystem forward, in October 2022 GSA formed the Private Mobile Networks Special Interest Group (SIG). The aims of the group are to define the ecosystem, track it, and promote it. To do so, the scope of the group includes the aggregation of Private Mobile Networks data in an environment where participants can share sensitive and anonymised information on Private Mobile Networks customers, confidentially. The market data, which comes from the members of the SIG, is then shared with the wider ecosystem in the form of quarterly reports, and with industry analysts to keep them abreast of developments in the sector. In its reporting, GSA counts customer references as unique organizations/government entities deploying one or more 3GPP-based 4G LTE or 5G networks in a given country that are worth more than €100,000.
Private networks and power utilities
Private networks have offered power utilities an opportunity to develop and deploy bespoke means of communication, allowing them dependable connectivity for applications such as grid management, real-time monitoring, and asset control. By avoiding the congestion and potential vulnerabilities of public networks, they enable utilities to maintain visibility and uninterrupted communication across their organizations, responding to outages quickly using dedicated and private lines, and optimizing the way they manage and allocate resources. It’s for these reasons that private mobile networks have become a key technology in helping utilities continue to meet the demands of a shifting energy landscape.
Industry adoption of 4G/5G private mobile
In its most recent publication, Private Mobile Networks – Market Status Update, published in May 2023, GSA data suggests that the manufacturing sector has been a strong adopter of private mobile networks in terms of the number of customer deployments, with 219 identified companies, up from 129 at the end of 2021. The education sector is the second most common group, with 114 customers deploying private networks, followed by mining companies (88) and defence and peacekeeping (76). Power utility companies (73) and device testing and lab-as-a-service (69) round out the top five.
Figure 1: Total private mobile network customers by user type per year
As the chart above shows, the power utility sector was not only an early adopter, but also continues to see growth in the deployment of 4G and 5G private networks. However, in many respects, this momentum is going under-reported. Over 75% of deployments recorded by GSA are confidential and not in the public domain. While it is not unusual for a vendor’s customer references to remain confidential, only the defence/peacekeeping and maritime sectors have a greater percentage of confidential deployments. In Q1 2023, GSA’s Private Mobile Networks SIG members reported two-thirds of the customer references they provided are not reported elsewhere.
Global adoption of private mobile networks
Globally, GSA reports that 74 countries have at least one private mobile network with Manufacturing, Education, Device Testing and Lab as a service, and Oil & Gas leading the verticals with the highest growth based on 1,148 customer references in Q1 2023, up from 1,077 in Q4 2022. Of the 1,148 referenced, LTE is used in 853 of the catalogued customers deploying private mobile networks for which GSA has data. 5G is being deployed in 505, 48% of these customers, with a focus on long-term trials and deployments within educational and testbed/validation facilities.
Looking in more detail at the power utilities sector, 73 organizations are recorded as deploying 4G/5G private networks with North America hosting the majority of these networks. With 33 confirmed deployments, North America sits ahead of Europe (20) and East Asia (16), with the remainder being scattered across other regions including Latin America and the Middle East.
The prospects for the future
The GSA data clearly shows that there is a considerable and diverse group of market participants who are actively involved in creating and providing solutions for private mobile networks. With a wealth of opportunities available and diverse regulatory strategies in place to facilitate LTE and 5G private usage, significant and promising progress in the market is clearly on the horizon over the next few years.
GSA is the voice of the global mobile ecosystem representing companies engaged in the supply of infrastructure, semiconductors, test equipment, devices, applications and mobile support services. The organization plays a central role in promoting 3GPP technology, advocating spectrum policies and stimulating IMT industry development. Drawing on extensive unique and non-public data provided by the members of our Private Mobile Networks Special Interest Group, GSA will continue to track the development and expansion of deployments across all industries and regions. The next quarterly report is due in September and GSA welcomes others in the sector to join the SIG and to contribute to this research.
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