5G is Moving Downstream to Enterprises—And Everyone Stands to Gain from It

Enterprises need stronger, more flexible connectivity between employees, customers, devices, and applications. Converged 5G networks can help.

5G is Moving Downstream to Enterprises—And Everyone Stands to Gain from It
(Credit: Panther Media GmbH / Alamy Stock Photo)

A year ago, industry observers could see that 5G’s evolution was trending beyond the macro cell environment to more specialized, dedicated in-building distributed antenna system (DAS) deployments in large public venues. Stadiums, arenas, and even transportation hubs were (and are) a natural fit for 5G’s capabilities to manage extremely high demand and provide secure connections at points of sale and ticket validation kiosks, for instance.

Today, in the United States, the major cellular network operators are rapidly advancing their 5G deployments in sports arenas and other large public venues, proudly promoting their capabilities to a multimedia-hungry crowd. Similar deployments are happening in Europe, the Middle East, and Asia as well.

Now, the question is, what's next for 5G in 2024? My expectation is that 5G will continue to filter downstream to become an even bigger player for enterprise connectivity needs. As was the case in large public venues, the availability of 5G will be a catalyst for the evolution of mobile network operators’ (MNOs) business models.

Convergence by the numbers: revenue and costs

For enterprise networks to do more, they have to be more; that is, they must become more agile in how much they can do and how they do it. Convergence is the buzzword of the hour, but it’s not a single, simple concept. It can apply to various business case-driven implementations, but whether it’s a converged 5G/Wi-Fi network, a converged O-RAN and DAS/small cell, or a converged public and private network—in each case, for MNOs, it’s all about simplifying the architecture and monetizing its services.

First, let’s look at the revenue opportunities. 5G networks in B2B enterprises represent a key opportunity for MNOs to monetize converged network offerings. A recent survey conducted by GSMA (discussed in this webinar, free registration required) revealed that 83% of MNO chief executives see their enterprise and government customers as their strongest revenue opportunity for 5G deployments.

The same survey showed that almost two-thirds of MNOs consider private wireless networks as an important part of their enterprise strategy. While not discounting considerable consumer interest in 5G-driven services for things like gaming on the go, B2B enterprise is clearly the strongest 5G opportunity for MNOs in 2024, driving 5G indoors through on-premises public and private 5G networks.

The reasons for this interest in the enterprise space are many, but here are a few of particular interest:

  • Scalable enterprise services mean that MNOs and third-party operators alike can sell in an on-premises 5G network for telephony today and expand the network’s value later on. Once the deployment investment is made, enterprises can evolve to embrace these services on a more palatable OpEx basis.

  • Premium pricing options based on 5G service levels— starting with basic 5G coverage and expanding capacity for more bandwidth-intensive multimedia or VR/AR as needed—enable MNOs to allocate greater 5G bandwidth to enterprises that are willing to pay for it. They can even give enterprises in-house control over sensitive private networking applications.

  • IoT and other value-added services represent new revenue opportunities for converged networks that integrate IT and OT networks, centrally managed by the MNO through a network-as-a-service (NaaS) relationship. Such relationships are sticky—once begun, they tend to persist and grow, and long-term revenue can grow along with them.

Secondly, let’s consider the potential for cost savings. MNOs are increasingly able to offload 5G network deployment costs—in whole or in part—to the enterprises they serve, broadening the revenue stream beyond that generated by carrying traffic. Recent advances have made this business model even more attractive because of the multiple efficiencies they afford, namely:

  • Converged networks are getting simpler as they integrate multiple wireless networks into unified—or even virtualized—services. It means less overall infrastructure, less labor, and less expertise to deploy that infrastructure, greater opportunities for remote optimization, monitoring, and management, and, in all-digital frontend networks, it can mean the elimination of upwards of 90% of the power and floor space requirements for maintaining the network headend.

  • O-RAN flexibility means both MNOs and neutral hosts can offer scalable, secure, resilient 5G enterprise networks at substantially less cost. O-RAN’s CU/DU network-agnostic interoperability can integrate with an all-digital O-RAN-compliant DAS and/or small cell networks using combinations of vendor components best suited to the specific enterprise environment. In addition, because O-RAN technology involves such a diverse supply chain, it’s resistant to bottlenecks and price shocks.

  • Faster multi-MNO deployments are also enabled through O-RAN. Standardized and pre-integrated MNO connectivity enables enterprises to onboard more MNOs faster. And since everything is 100% digital, MNOs gain the flexibility of being able to interchangeably leverage licensed spectrum, private spectrum, or even sliced spectrum as a monetization opportunity. 

It’s also worth noting that many of these cost-reducing factors provide a significant secondary benefit in the sustainability profile of the enterprise network, as they require less material, energy, and cooling than older analog networks. This green dimension can add more depth to an already strong product offering, as many enterprises hold public commitments to pursuing sustainable practices. The actual per-case benefit is determined by a large number of factors unique to the deployment, but there is almost always a sustainability argument to be made.

What enterprises want—and expect—from converged 5G networks

The capacity, low latency, and high security inherent to 5G are all key advantages in any number of operational categories, including voice and video, IoT device connectivity, and more. Enterprises can take advantage of the next level of converged on-premises networks to bring 5G into their facilities, but enterprises expect simplicity of operation and minimal infrastructure footprint.

While the applications are as diverse as the enterprises that use them, one common expectation MNOs and third-party operators alike will find with increasing regularity is the need for simplicity and as close to zero-touch management as possible. Enterprises that invest the CapEx to deploy such networks don’t want to double up expenses by staffing up IT to manage it.

For MNOs, this is where their own branding, NaaS, and analytics offerings can help put converged 5G networks back on the table for those enterprises that otherwise wouldn't be willing to afford the total cost of ownership that comes with a business-changing network.

2024 is the year of enterprise 5G

The 5G wave continues to roll. This year, it arrives as an office, retail, or manufacturing location near you. MNOs stand to ride a surge of enterprise interest in converged 5G networks. Like the ongoing slate of 5G deployments in large public venues, the downstream market represented by the diverse enterprise category is shaping up to be a key opportunity, even in a tightening economy.

Enterprises need stronger, more flexible connectivity between employees, customers, devices, and applications. O-RAN-compliant DAS and small cells deliver all this, along with a highly diversified product portfolio that’s resilient to market disruptions. MNOs stand to win big because deployment costs are shouldered by enterprises to a greater degree than public venues, the ongoing upsell opportunities are many and varied, and remote NaaS business models create reliable, long-term revenue streams as they deliver more value to key enterprise customers.

Upendra Pingle is the SVP of Intelligent Cellular Networks at CommScope.

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About the Author(s)

Upendra Pingle, SVP, Intelligent Cellular Networks, CommScope

Upendra Pingle is Senior Vice President of Intelligent Cellular Networks at CommScope, part of the Networking, Intelligent Cellular, and Security Solutions business segment.

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