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24 August 2021

Dish extends menu for private enterprise 5G

Dish has singled out enterprise private 5G for fastest growth towards its ambition of becoming a major fourth US mobile operator alongside Verizon, T-Mobile and AT&T.

The rationale is that although its rivals are also targeting this broad and diverse sector, the timing is right for an emerging operator in a field that is itself in its infancy. The hope is that some enterprises will be more open to overtures from a smaller operator offering competitive services carved out of its own emerging public infrastructure. Dish is setting out its stall as a provider of dedicated network slices aimed primarily at smaller enterprises, rather than cases where spectrum is set aside for networks fully owned and managed by the customer.

While Dish is focusing purely on the US market at present, it will have observed how in Germany and Japan, which have been at the head of enterprise 5G under the banner of Industry 4.0, major manufacturers in the automotive sector especially, such as Volkswagen, Bosch and Toyota, have eschewed mobile operators and built private 5G networks in direct collaboration with infrastructure providers. At the same time, there were signs of MNOs having greater success with smaller enterprises without the resources to manage complex 5G deployments themselves, and this has set the stage for Dish.

The Dish prognosis that the private enterprise sector will grow faster than the total 5G sector including public networks, as well as the indications that smaller enterprises are more open to offerings from MNOs, is confirmed in the latest report from RAN Research, the forecasting arm of Rethink Technology Research. The report, ‘Private Networks Driving Opportunities in 5G and WiFi’, drills down into regions and vertical industry sectors, identifying manufacturing as a major driver for private enterprise 5G in line with the Industry 4.0 revolution, but with strong growth across the board.

Private 5G networks are on the verge of rapid take off to generate a surge in annual revenues for network equipment from $1.5bn in 2021 to $19.3bn in 2027, according to that RAN Research report. Dish has been preparing for this anticipated prolonged boom starting with early projects in Europe and contends that its cloud-native network will be a differentiator. It is now promoting its fully cloud-native network to offer virtually partitioned slices tuned to particular needs of industrial users.

So according to chief commercial officer Stephen Bye, Dish is now is working on multiple RFPs and RFIs for private networks, as well as on proofs of concepts, while discussing with system integrators how to bring these to market.

“The good thing about these private networks that we’re working on is they’re not constrained by the geography of building our macro network,” said Bye. “So, we’re able to serve customers in different geographies within that environment. And then, the other thing, which is also important to highlight, it’s across all verticals. There isn’t a specific vertical that has an interest in this. We’re seeing interest across every vertical and every industrial segment.”

This comes four months after Dish announced in April 2021 it would use AWS infrastructure and services to build the cloud-based network for both its public services and now the private offerings. Dish claimed this to be the first 5G cloud-based network featuring Open RAN in the US. Again, as an emerging operator and relative greenfield, Dish saw advantage in building entirely around Open RAN from the outset, enabling it to collaborate exclusively for now with various vendors offering cloud-native technology around AWS.

Of Dish’s three main competitors, Verizon looks the one setting the pace here, after launching its international private 5G platform for global enterprises in Europe and the Asia-Pacific region in October 2020. This was in partnership with Nokia, which has been the most open of the major infrastructure providers to collaborate with enterprises directly over private 5G. The Verizon deal shows Nokia is equally keen on partnering with its traditional operator customers, viewing them as ideal partners for the multitude of smaller organizations unable or unwilling to tackle private 5G directly.

This international collaboration has since born fruit, winning its first European contract in April 2021 with the UK’s Associated British Ports Holdings, Verizon’s first industrial 5G contract in Europe.  This is to deploy private 5G at the Port of Southampton using Nokia infrastructure, as part of that earlier deal, taking advantage of a shared access license awarded to ABP by regulator in the 3300–3800 MHz band.

T-Mobile US is playing a longer game, anticipating major private 5G deployments taking place only after 2022 as Standalone 5G becomes more widely available and freed from the shackles of LTE, as the operator sees it. For now, the operator is working with some of its larger enterprise customers to identify opportunities, pain points and develop proof of concepts, rather than on full blown deployments at this stage.

However Deutsche Telekom, largest shareholder of T-Mobile with 43%, is already more advanced with its 5G private network strategy given Germany’s leadership status there. But DT has suffered from major manufacturers ploughing their own furrow. Most recently DT has been airing grievances over what it sees as over generous allocation of spectrum for direct industrial use by regulator Bundesnetzagentur.

At the European Spectrum Management Conference in June 2021, Jan‑Hendrik Jochum, VP for spectrum policy and projects at DT, argued that “set‑asides” of spectrum in the 3.7 GHz/3.8 GHz band jeopardized the entire European 5G project as they limit assignment of sufficiently large, contiguous spectral blocks. He also contended the cost of spectrum at auction was raised because supply was reduced, with correspondingly less money available for investment in infrastructure.

This argument has been less evident in the US where spectrum has been available for private networks from the CBRS band, and rules have been relatively clear for some time. DT’s angst partly reflected failure to be involved in some major German private 5G deployments. In the US, AT&T is involved in CBRS, after in October 2020 announcing collocation with Ericsson around its Private Cellular Networks package. This offered customers use of Ericsson infrastructure for a localized cellular core and access network, enabled by CBRS shared spectrum.

Generally, AT&T is on a similar page to T-Mobile in evaluating private 5G at present. AT&T announced June 2021 a collaboration with The Texas A&M University System’s Rellis Campus to open private 5G testbeds late this year to public and private sector organizations for development and assessment of 5G based applications.

“This new 5G testbed will be one of the most advanced university based 5G testbeds in the country,” said Brad Hoover, CIO for The Rellis Campus.

“Bringing together the private and public sectors, the Rellis 5G testbeds can test 5G technologies at scale utilizing both on road and off-road terrains through 5G mmWave and Sub-6 frequencies,” he said. “These testbeds are being set up to test new approaches to augmented and virtual reality, autonomous vehicles, or any number of use cases as well as those that have yet to be imagined.”