Get Ready for the India 5G Private Network Battle Royale

Image credit: iStockphoto/Malchev

In deploying 5G at scale and for industry use cases, developing private networks is a key infrastructure enabler. With 5G rollouts accelerating worldwide, private networks are shaping as a new commercial battleground, particularly in India, where the rollout is about to ramp up.

China, for example, has more than 5,000 5G private networks with more than 20,000 use cases across 40 economic sectors, according to official data released by the Ministry of Industry and IT in May.

The three major Chinese telcos, all state-owned, have been the movers here, with China Mobile and China Unicom seeing the biggest growth in their 5G private networks, along with their cloud and data center businesses. Both of them lag China Telecom, which says it has built more than 2500 5G custom network projects, the most recent being a deal with China Southern Airlines to supply 5G networking for its maintenance program across 20 locations.

According to a recent report by Allied Market Research, the 5G private network market will reach USD1.93 billion in South-East Asia (ex-China) by 2030, with a CAGR of 41.9%, as the demand for low latency and the need to deploy exponential technologies create demand for the new networks.

In India, the argument is heating up as the auction for the 5G network is set to begin in July. Some experts believe it should be market-driven, while others say the Government should create a level-playing field and force the telecom companies to work with the solutions vendors for the national good.

A fight is brewing. Independent companies will be able to set up their captive private networks. Of course, the global technology players and the Indian telcos also want to be a part of the action.

Industry association the Cellular Operators Association of India, for example, says there is no need to allocate spectrum to industry verticals for private networks. In contrast, the Broadband India Forum says that captive private 5G networks will be crucial as India develops Industry 4.0.

Telco and technology collaborations

For the technology companies, the motivation is to create their use cases, giving them runs on the board to win global business in helping other companies transform.

A global telco such as Ericsson, for example, is unlikely to work directly with local corporates which have their own 5G spectrum, preferring instead to partner with Indian operators to develop private 5G networks which they can operate for enterprises.

“Our go-to model has been with telcos,” said Thiaw Seng Ng, head of Network Evolution in the region for Ericsson, in a press briefing in Mumbai in June.

Rather than outright commercial warfare, however, there is also a view that there is plenty of space in the Indian market for different models to co-exist.

“The telco fronts the enterprise, while Ericsson supports with the equipment, and sometimes managed services too.”

Another talk in India is that vendors such as Nokia, Huawei, and even Ericsson, which have previously worked through telcos, will be allowed by the Government to offer their services directly to enterprises. To do that, they will have to acquire spectrum at the coming auctions, which is why the process is receiving such scrutiny.

Rather than outright commercial warfare, however, there is also a view that there is plenty of space in the Indian market for both models to co-exist, fulfilling both the government’s nation-building plans and delivering commercial viability.

There is also the point that once the private networks are created, they will need connectivity to broader public eco-systems. In the Indian market, the established telcos will be best placed to deliver this.

Political opportunity

For the Indian Government, the 5G era also presents a political opportunity. In late May, much was made of a Government minister making the first 5G call on a trial network set up in Chennai using technology developed and built in India.

This was part of a live demonstration by indigenous technology companies who have banded together under the banner of “Voice” — the Voice of Indian Comtech Enterprises.

In the case of these demonstrations, the networks were stitched together through collaborations with local Indian companies. Still, questions linger over whether this approach can deliver the end-to-end solutions at a large scale that major enterprises will need.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has said that 5G technology will contribute USD450 billion to the Indian economy. This is a big pie, but how it is shared is yet to be revealed as the jockeying in India’s 5G rollout plays out.

Lachlan Colquhoun is the Australia and New Zealand correspondent for CDOTrends and the NextGenConnectivity editor. He remains fascinated with how businesses reinvent themselves through digital technology to solve existing issues and change their entire business models. You can reach him at [email protected].

Image credit: iStockphoto/Malchev