• United States
Maria Korolov
Contributing writer

8 top industries for private 5G

Nov 20, 202314 mins

Manufacturing, transportation and logistics lead the way among the top industry verticals for private 5G deployments.

Manufacturing 4.0
Credit: Shutterstock

Private 5G networks promise lower latency, higher bandwidth, better security and broader coverage, particularly in challenging environments like mines and factories, compared to more established technologies like WiFi or 4G LTE. However, 5G hardware and standards have lagged, experts say, slowing enterprise adoption.

In some industries, the benefits of 5G are so compelling that companies are moving ahead with deployments with the pieces that are already available and finding work-arounds for those that aren’t.

Across the broad spectrum of potential use cases for private 5G, adoption is expected to pick up steam over the next few years. According to an IEEE survey of technology leaders released in late October, 5G is one of the five most important technology trends for 2024, after AI, XR, and cloud computing. Survey respondents said 5G will be of particular benefit for telemedicine, transportation, and manufacturing.

By 2027, private LTE and 5G networks combined will have a total market size of $7.4 billion - and private 5G will account for 92% of that, says Olivier Loridan, senior analyst for enterprise 5G monetization at Omdia. The top three industries for deployments will be transport and logistics, energy and utilities, and manufacturing, he says.

Research firm Analysys Mason recently conducted a review of all publicly announced LTE and 5G deployments, and, in some use cases, 5G is already overtaking LTE. In fact, private 5G networks accounted for 65% of new announcements this year, and 5G’s share of all private wireless networks has risen from 11% in 2019 to 51% in 2022 to 53% so far this year, according to the report.

Here are the top eight industry verticals for private 5G deployment:

1. Manufacturing

According Analysys Mason, there were 93 public announcements of private 5G networks in the manufacturing industry in the first half of 2023 compared to just 32 announcements of LTE networks. And by 2027, manufacturing will account for 35% of all private network spending, the research firm predicts.

Within the broad category of manufacturing, 5G is particularly popular with so-called smart factories. Ibraheem Kasujee, senior analyst at the firm, points out that 104 of the 129 private 5G networks announced this year are being used to build smart factories that use the technology to help connect automated guided vehicles and industrial equipment.

Another popular application of private 5G technology is the delivery of broadband connectivity to a site, such as to an industrial plant, in a rural location where public network connectivity is limited.

Ericsson subsidiary Cradlepoint helps enterprises roll out private 5G networks. “The number one vertical that we see, the number one use case, is manufacturing,” says Cradlepoint CMO Donna Johnson.

One practical reason is that factories are large spaces filled with steel, which makes it difficult to deploy WiFi, she says. Then there are the additional benefits of 5G, such as low latency and increased performance.

However, not every device in a manufacturing facility that needs to be connected has 5G built in. One workaround, she says, is to deploy a gateway, a device similar to a router, close to the devices that need it, and connect to the devices via Ethernet cables.

This isn’t an option, of course, for robots that need to move around the factory floor. “They have to have 5G connectivity in them to work,” she says. “And that can be a barrier to some of the cases. So we work very actively with ecosystem partners to encourage the development of connected products.”

For other devices, such as those based on tablets or cell phone form factors, the 5G support is already there. In addition, for large pieces of equipment, a 5G radio can be bolted on.

Johnson adds that one of the advantages of 5G is that it requires fewer radios than WiFi, and can help companies reduce the number of cables they need to run across the facility. “The ROI there is clear,” she says.

Douglas Gatto, senior architect at Insight, a Chandler, Ariz.-based solution integrator, explains that a typical 250,000 square foot manufacturing facility would require 80 to 100 WiFi access points. But with 5G, you’d only need about 20 radios.

“The radios are more expensive on the 5G side,” he says. But with fewer radios needed, the hardware costs become comparable. “And then you have to take into account the cable pulls for five times as many access points, the labor costs, the switching infrastructure, and the aggregation points,” he adds. “So you wind up saving money in the long run.”

2. Transport and logistics

There were 42 logistics-related private 5G announcements in the first half of 2023, nearly matching the 47 announcements for LTE networks. In 2027, transport and logistics will account for 13% of private network spending, according to Analysys Mason.

Private networks are used to provide connectivity for airport and railway staff, and at ports and logistics sites, such as warehouses. “The economics of covering them with WiFi simply don’t work very well,” says Dan Hays, principal and head of US corporate strategy practice at PricewaterhouseCoopers. “The advantage that 5G has is very high bandwidth and low-latency for large scale or mixed indoor and outdoor environments.”

Typically, employees would use smart phones and tablets to connect to the 5G network, so this helps fill the gap until more specialized 5G devices come on the market. “A worker could have a 5G smartphone that routes them to their next picking location or the place in the warehouse where they need to place a tablet,” he says.

Another logistics-related 5G application is hybrid environments - when the employee is within the private 5G network, their devices connect to it, but when they’re out in the field, that same device connects to public wireless.

Telecommunications services provider Syniverse, for example, recently worked on a 5G project with a large logistics company that needed a private 5G network at the airport where they were based for the electronic flight kits that the airplane crews used. “When they’re at the home airport, it uses the private network,” says Kathiravan Kandasamy, the company’s vice-president of product. “But when they land in another airport, the devices use the public networks.”

The company had an agreement with the airport to set up their 5G equipment to serve their airplane crews, the ground crews, and other employees, he says. Since phones and tablets are all starting to support 5G by default, these kinds of applications are easier to deploy. “The hard element comes in when it’s a pure IoT device,” he says. “That’s where the cost elements come in and enterprises need to look at the use case and the business case.”

3. Entertainment and retail

According Analysys Mason, there were 21 announcements of private 5G networks in the entertainment and retail industries this year, compared to 9 LTE announcements. These 5G networks would cover stadiums, shopping malls, and similar venues, providing not just better connectivity for visitors but also secure, reliable channels for staff.

Stadiums and other recreational facilities are a big use case, says Cradlepoint's Johnson. One of the reasons to deploy private 5G in these settings is to separate the operational network and employees from the general public. “In a large venue, everyone in the public is connecting through the public network and that can overwhelm the network,” she says. “So there’s a separate, private 5G network that coaches and other staff can connect to.”

The private 5G network can also be used for video cameras, security employees, and ground crews, she says.

4. Mining and oil and gas

According to Analysys Mason, there were 19 announcements of private 5G networks this year in the mining and oil and gas sectors, compared to 46 LTE announcements. By 2027, mining, oil and gas will account for 32% of private network spending.

“Often, mining is in remote areas,” says Cradlepoint’s Johnson. “You often don’t have other networking options.” Use cases include employee safety, imaging devices, edge computing, and productivity.

“We have a gold mining customer where the actual trucks - massive trucks - connect via 5G and are operated remotely,” she says. “They never shut down.”

Coverage is also extremely important, since mining is often underground, where running WiFi devices is almost impossible, she adds.

And the fact that 5G equipment is more expensive and bulkier than the alternative isn’t as much of a factor in mining applications, says David Witkowski, IEEE senior member and CEO of Oku Solutions, a telecommunications analyst firm. “It’s not a big problem,” he says. “The radio can be big. It’s literally a tractor or mining drill that has the radio on it.”

That might not work for a device that someone has to carry in their pocket, he says. “But an enterprise customer would say, ‘I'm going to bolt it to the side of a robot that's ten feet high.'”

5. Education

There were 18 announcements of private 5G networks this year in the education sector, compared to 12 LTE announcements, according to the Analysys Mason report.

“Campuses and workplaces also leverage 5G technology to help improve safety and security,” says Rahul Bajpai, principal at Deloitte Consulting.

Deploying private 5G networks can improve cellular coverage for users, but also allows organizations to put up connected cameras and do real-time video analysis to detect fires, intrusions, or crowd surges. “This enables these campuses and workplaces to send timely alerts to staff and students in order to help keep people informed and safe,” he says.

6. Healthcare

According to the Analysys Mason report, there were 16 announcements of private 5G networks this year in the healthcare sector, compared to 5 LTE announcements.

Healthcare applications of private 5G include clinical data collection, diagnosis and screening, telemedicine, smart hospitals, AR and VR training, and ambulance management, says Deloitte’s Bajpai.

There are many health care applications that need to be wirelessly connected, says Ragu Masilamany, general manager and global head of solutions engineering and labs at Amdocs, a telecom technology and service provider. And they need to be secure, he adds. When the MRI scan comes out of the machine it needs to go into a particular database that only particular doctors can see. Hospitals don’t want to send sensitive patient data over WiFi, he says.

“5G gives you wireless that’s as secure as a wire,” Masilamany says. “That gives them the flexibility of wireless where the data security and governance are as good as the wired network.”

Other companies that have similar security concerns are financial institutions, or even industrial companies protecting highly sensitive intellectual property about manufacturing processes, he says. “When it comes to enterprise-level security for enterprise application over wireless networks -- those pieces are in place through developments we've seen in the last 12 to 18 months,” he says.

7. Public sector

Analysys Mason reports that there were 13 announcements of private 5G networks this year in the public sector, compared to 21 LTE announcements. In 2027, the public sector will account for 10% of private network spending.

One company working with government deployments is cybersecurity company Netscout, which provides visibility into the performance of the 5G network and helps protect it against attacks.

“There’s a lot going on in that sector,” says Rick Fulwiler, Netscout’s chief solutions architect. “We’re working directly with our military contracts and delivering service assurance for them.” For example, bad actors might launch a resource exhaustion attack, a form of denial of service. “They’re going after the infrastructure itself, by sending tons and tons of registration messages,” he says.

On the plus side, 5G access is based on SIM cards, he says. “I can’t hack my way into the network like I can with WiFi. That’s one of the main benefits from the security side.”

5G also has the latest authentication technologies and allows companies to apply security policies to users or devices.

8. Utilities

There were seven announcements of private 5G networks this year in the utilities sector, compared to 28 LTE announcements, according to the Analysys Mason report. Most of these networks have been deployed locally at sites such as power stations and wind farms, says Kasujee. However, several utility firms have plans to deploy wide-area private networks across their transmission networks.

Utilities are certainly leveraging more 5G, says Michael Misrahi, America’s telecommunication leader at Ernst & Young. “It can handle more connection points in a dense area and provide different flavors of Internet - high capacity, low latency, whatever it might be.”

Companies have a variety of options for increasing and improving coverage with private 5G, he says. “More power, more access points, the physical security on the access points. You have a lot more control than over the public network.”

Private 5G isn’t totally there yet

Private 5G is not yet being deployed by enterprise IT as a general-purpose business networking tool, and still has a ways to go, says Ernst & Young’s Misrahi.

Deploying private 5G requires providing connectivity across a broad range of device form factors, including all of the legacy devices that may be in use. On a more strategic level, decisions to upgrade wireless networks are often made incrementally, by different people, which makes it harder to adopt a comprehensive 5G strategy.

On top of that, every vertical has different needs, as do different-sized companies, while vendors want to go where the biggest markets are.

“It’s almost a Catch-22,” says Misrahi. “Nobody wants to lean into it completely. Compared to the consumer market, which is very large, it’s very difficult for the enterprise 5G ecosystem to move forward.”

It’s hard to get accurate industry numbers for private 5G deployments, says Jason Leigh, research manager for mobility at International Data Corp. Most vendors don’t release their numbers.

One that does is Nokia, he says. In July, the company reported 635 private wireless customers, up from 485 the same time last year. That still isn’t all that big, says Leigh. “We will see companies deploying private networks with LTE because the equipment is ready and the hardware is there,” he says. “In 5G, the device ecosystem is still lagging.”

And while 5G does have better security and latency than WiFi, it’s not actually going to be a WiFi replacement for most companies, Leigh says. “You're going to deploy private networks where you have needs for throughput, latency, or connect a million endpoints on your factory floor,” he says. “I don't see people needing to connect their finance department.”