In our last blog on operator-vendor partnerships for private networks, we discussed how operators leverage these partnerships to co-develop network solutions and gain access to new markets or verticals. Operators and vendors have their own sets of strengths and weaknesses and these partnerships appear to be a win-win situation. But it also leads to situations that turn them into competitors in the same marketplace.
Challenges with operators
Operators are usually focused on selling the latest ‘G’ instead of applications that solve enterprise pain points. Every enterprise has different needs and requires a customized but quick solution. It may get time-consuming and challenging for operators to understand the magnitude of customization involved. This can be viewed as a roadblock for vendors as they are quick to realize the value proposition for enterprise services.
There is an increasing number of markets allocating spectrum for private networks directly to industrial groups and enterprises. This primarily works in favor of vendors as they can directly engage with enterprises. But some use cases may require low band whereas others may require mmWave, which means enterprises may still have to depend on MNOs for the required spectrum. This works as a big advantage for operators as they have a range and massive amount of spectrum.
However, operators are progressing slowly and may focus on limited verticals instead of a range of verticals. Therefore, the downside for vendors is that it limits their sales channel and they must depend on MNOs for certain network deployment.
SWOT Analysis of Mobile Network Operators, Network Equipment Vendors
Go-to-market strategies of vendors
Nokia has more than 485 private network customers with double-digit order intake growth in Q2 2022. The vendor sells solutions with or without MNOs, with an increasing proportion of its sales coming from direct deals with enterprises that can access the spectrum without the operator.
Ericsson is also pushing hard into the space. The hardware vendor started with a slightly different approach as it focused on providing dedicated network solutions through partnerships with mobile operators. However, Ericsson has also started building an ecosystem of partners with specific vertical expertise or device capabilities.
The main differentiating factor between large vendors like Huawei, Nokia, Samsung and Ericsson and players like Airspan, Baicells and JMA is the different market segments targeted by them. Large vendors are experts in providing tailored solutions to enterprise customers in complex industrial environments such as factories, warehouses, ports, mines and mission-critical communications. On the other hand, smaller players are targeting the market’s low end, comprising mainly small and medium businesses. For example, Baicells has announced a cost-effective private LTE network that can be built for under $1,000 for wireless internet service providers (WISPs).
Why partner beyond operators?
Primarily, vendors are partnering with other ecosystem players beyond operators in an effort to sell private wireless solutions directly to enterprises in response to the slow start from the operators.
Furthermore, different verticals require different business models with specific expertise in consultancy, designing and managing the networks. It is not always viable for a single vendor to offer the complete stack of the solution. This leads to a variety of collaborations with system integrators, hyperscalers, enterprise connectivity solution providers, mobile core specialists and more to offer end-to-end managed solutions. Besides, it also opens more distribution channels for vendors to sell solutions.
Vendors are determined to find ways to become the leading choice for network deployment partners and deliver true value to enterprises. They are partnering with system integrators as well as expanding their portfolio by introducing solutions for seamless interworking across both private 5G and Wi-Fi networks.
However, it is still a fragmented market and some vendors are trying to offer solutions at prices competitive with that of Wi-Fi. There are also some open RAN vendors involved as private networks are touted as their new playground after greenfield networks. But we are yet to see large-scale deployments from this expanding list of vendors.
Ultimately, a large portion of activity in the private network space will be conducted in the network equipment and enterprise solution provider ecosystems as they reduce their dependence on telcos. MNOs will have to evolve their business models to stay relevant as an increasing number of tech giants acquire spectrum and vendors up the ante.