5G spectrum availability, licensing, and use cases drive the adoption of private networks for modern enterprise businesses
Demand for Private 5G in Europe is driven by the surging requirements of enterprise businesses to modernise their data, security, and digitalisation to meet the growth and operational needs of their organisations.
Although some private networks in Europe have been active for decades, the varying regulatory characteristics within each country have slowed universal adoption of Private LTE and 5G. However, with the adoption of 5G comes greater capacity and bandwidth capabilities compared to LTE, as well as improvements to latency and large-scale IoT implementations that enable the enhanced use of mobile technology for business- and mission-critical applications.
What is Europe’s vision for 5G?
After realizing the untapped potential of 5G, the European Commission and European ICT industry established a public-private partnership — known as the 5G-PPP — to support research and innovation centered on 5G technology. Through public funding via the Horizon 2020 Programme and additional investments by the European Union, 5G infrastructure and coverage is expected to cover the majority of urban areas and main transport paths by 2025.
One of the key aspects of this deployment is access to radio spectrum and the interoperability of infrastructure from one country to the next.
How do Private 5G networks vary across Europe?
Throughout Europe, the types of 5G and their licensing models can vary greatly from one country to the next. In addition to device availability and infrastructure costs, this contributes to why mobile networks in Europe today — including private networks — are still operating on LTE.
According to a Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA) report released in June 2022, only 37% of cataloged private networks are using 5G. Many existing private networks are typically those that have been set up for exclusive use by an enterprise or group of enterprises (such as security or transportation agencies) that can’t depend solely on public networks to meet the needs of their business.
However, an ever-increasing number of markets are actively engaged in developing and deploying private networks using 5G spectrum bands. The top three European countries with the highest adoption rates of Private 5G networks are:
Germany (No. 2 internationally)
Among the first of the European countries, Germany set aside 100 MHz of the 3.4-3.8 GHz 5G spectrum band for industrial use and continues to lead the adoption of Private 5G in Europe, with primary applications in the automotive manufacturing industry. 5G spectrum allocated in Germany also includes 24.25-27.5 GHz and is locally licensed on a first come, first served basis.
The United Kingdom (No. 4 internationally)
Within the U.K., 3.8-4.2 GHz, 1781.7-1785 / 1876.7-1880 MHz, and 2390-2400 MHz 5G bands are locally licensed on a first come, first served basis if the network proposal does not adversely impact planned spectrum use by one or more of the incumbent public mobile network operators (MNOs).
Finland (No. 6 internationally)
In Finland, 2300-2320 MHz and 24.5-25.1 GHz spectrum is allocated for Private 5G networks use on a first come, first served basis. The 2300-2320 MHz band is available only to a limited user group, while the 24.25-25.1 GHz band can be used for both private and public networks. Finland was the first country to award a local license (to a power plant) in the 26 GHz band.
Other adopters of Private 5G networks including France, Spain, and Sweden are scattered throughout Europe. Outside of the region, the United States (No. 1 internationally), China (No. 3 internationally), and Japan (No. 5 internationally) lead the pack on adoption.
Private 5G use cases in Europe
The slower adoption of Private 5G in Europe is often attributed to the fragmentation and limited availability of spectrum for private networks. While the standardisation of private network spectrum is improving across Europe, enterprise businesses continue to face challenges, particularly with varying regulatory approaches and timing from one country to the next. Nevertheless, Private 5G use cases continue to increase.
Largely centered in Germany, the most common use case lies in the automotive manufacturing industry, where Private 5G networks are used, for example, to securely transmit data to assembly line robots with minimal latency. Factories also use 5G for driverless transportation systems, wireless data uploads to inventory management systems, and quality control monitoring.
The use of Private 5G networks in ports, airports, and rail hubs is also prevalent in Europe. For environments that typically cannot function on Wi-Fi or public cellular networks alone, Private 5G enables a larger, more reliable coverage area that meets the speed, latency and security requirements to connect assets, workers, and more.
Equally important in the overall adoption of private networks across Europe are smart cities and education, where security and the ability to accommodate future expansions are vital.
Getting started with Private 5G in Europe
The introduction of a Private 5G network is part of a larger picture of digitalisation and transformation centered around a more secure, reliable, cost-effective, and customisable network. But before integrating a private network with existing applications, systems, and infrastructure, it’s important to consider the following, regardless of which country your business resides in.
#1: Determine the business problem you’re trying to solve for.
To properly identify potential use cases and estimate your return on investment, it’s critical to first analyse the business needs — such as cost, security, or potential for growth — that are driving the exploration of a private network solution.
#2: Consider the requirements of supporting a private network for your unique use case.
Before deploying a private network, determine whether the spectrum available in your country is operated by a communication service provider (CSP) or if enterprises can deploy standalone networks and what the licensing requirements are in either case. Additionally, equipment needs may vary depending upon available spectrum. For example, the higher the frequency, the higher the throughput, but coverage and penetration will weaken. Careful radio network planning is an important step in most private network deployments.
#3: Find the right partners.
From equipment to managed and professional services, the right partners will help facilitate a calculated proof of concept and seamless expansions of private networks in the future.