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The pending issues for private cellular networks

Bnamericas Published: Wednesday, November 10, 2021
The pending issues for private cellular networks

Regulations for private cellular networks in Latin America still require fine-tuning to secure investment predictability and unleash their potential in relation to 5G.

Even so, these 5G networks are about to become more common because they offer low latencies and high data transmission capacity.

Latin American industry executives addressed these topics during a panel at the Futurecom Digital Week industry event, taking place virtually.

While largely in favor of such networks, many operators oppose the offer of unlicensed spectrum to corporations. Such spectrum is not acquired via concessions and auctions, bypassing operators.

“We have a lot of discussions with customers about the potential of private networks. Not just with 5G. We already have effectively installed private networks, with 4G and 4.5G. The path goes through technological evolution and the economic feasibility of the models,” said Débora Bortolasi, Telefónica Brazil’s digital B2B products director.

Telefónica has private network projects in Latin America with mining companies Las Bambas in Peru and Vale in Brazil in collaboration with Nokia. And in partnership with Ericsson, it has an agriculture project with Brazil’s Fazenda São Martinho.

Although the possibility exists that companies sidestep operators and deploy private networks directly with integrators and equipment suppliers, Bortolasi said human resources and technical capabilities are required that usually only carriers can provide.

Overall, aspects like rewriting applications, network edge processing and cloud applications, and cybersecurity work in favor of carrier-led private networks, Bortolasi said.

In Brazil, Telefónica announced last month the creation of a company dedicated to IoT and big data projects. According to Bortolasi, this separate unit will serve the dedicated corporate connectivity segment. 

Rival TIM is studying a similar separation.

FLEXIBLE USAGE

Francisco Soares, VP of regulatory affairs at Qualcomm in Latin America, claimed it is essential that private networks can be provided through both licensed and unlicensed spectrum. The corporate sector would then be free to request the use of frequencies directly from regulators and find the partners that best suit project needs.

In Latin America, however, many regulations still lack specific rules providing security for private spectrum use.

To make these projects more secure, license terms and permission requirements need to improve, according to Soares. Such analyses are often carried out on a case-by-case basis by regulators.

Furthermore, the secondary spectrum market still needs to be developed, said Soares. These markets allow the sale and lease of spectrum licenses to third parties.

In Brazil, regulator Anatel is developing clear rules for both the secondary market and for temporary use. These new rules are being included in the update of the country's spectrum usage regulation.

In terms of frequencies, the combination of different 5G bands, such as 3.5GHz and the 26GHz, and of millimeter waves, will provide the necessary capacity for the best use of private networks, said Soares.

Qualcomm expects that private 5G network applications, for example, as fixed wireless access, will replace fiber. 

TIM

Brazil’s TIM was among the first operators to develop business models for these private networks, said Alexandre Dal Forno, head of marketing and IoT.

The company is developing dedicated connectivity projects for connected cars and agriculture.

“With 5G these networks become reality. The main point, however, is how to do it, if via operator, via integrator,” said Dal Forno. At the limit, private networks involve a series of managed services, consulting and implementation, he added.

"You can have all the expertise of operators in network implementation."

The company has been considering different models for these private networks, such as hybrid private networks, which mix indoor applications with off-the-floor connectivity, for a “condominium” of companies, he said.

Dedicated networks also involve high costs for corporates as they require installation of core network equipment, managed services, installed equipment, among others.

Dal Forno highlighted the importance of cloud and edge computing for industrial connectivity projects, adding that TIM currently has 40 edge datacenters in Brazil.

NOKIA

Among the network providers, Nokia is one of the strongest advocates of private networks.

Renato Bueno, head of sales for digital industries at Nokia Latin America, highlighted that the group is present “in practically all private wireless network projects” in the mining segment across the region.

Productivity gains of up to 30% have been observed in this sector with the implementation of dedicated networks powering the automation and robotization of processes, Bueno said.

Nokia has also been working on port connectivity projects.

Bueno also advocated the release of as much spectrum as possible (up to 400MHz) in millimeter frequencies, such as the 26GHz one, for corporate applications, as these high frequencies tend to offer very low latencies.

"All these [private network] applications will require the involvement of operators, integrators, and both spectrum for large-scale use and for more restricted use," he said.

Forecasts for private networks are "very positive" for the next 5-10 years, according to Bueno.

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