Private Mobile Networks, New Security Models to Headline 2023 Tech Trends

Jan 27, 2023

If we learned one thing over the past few years, it’s that not even a global pandemic can stop technology evolution. For Communication Service Providers (CSPs), equipment makers, solution developers, and the enterprises worldwide depending on them, the race to push forward never pauses. But where exactly a given technology will go next is much harder to pin down—at least for most observers. 

As one of the world’s leading providers of test and measurement solutions for CSPs, wireless vendors, and many other sectors, we work closely with the organizations building tomorrow’s technology innovations. So, we often get a sneak preview of what’s coming next. Based on the work we’re conducting with CSPs and equipment-makers around the globe, here are some of the biggest trends we’re expecting in 2023.

Private Cellular Networks Take Root

If there was a theme to telecommunications in 2022, it was that coverage is still king. CSPs prioritized 5G network rollouts above all else, with the goal of providing at least decent 5G coverage to most users across most of their footprint. As an industry, telecom operators largely succeeded—a credit to their perseverance. It’s not every day, after all, that CSPs find themselves launching a new cellular generation in the middle of a pandemic.

Now that they can check the box for basic coverage, many CSPs, especially in more mature markets, will look to take the next step in 2023: monetization. The unique capabilities of 5G hold potential for a wide range of use cases, from massive networks of Internet of Things (IoT) deployments to Smart Cities to early metaverse applications. This year, however, the big area of focus will be enterprise private cellular networks. Here’s what we expect:

Asia will take the early lead in private networks:

In China, where CSPs successfully completed a massive push for nationwide coverage last year, operators are planning major private network campaigns for 2023. These efforts will chiefly target organizations in mining, energy, and logistics, at least initially. Meanwhile, India’s two largest operators will be racing to complete nationwide 5G rollouts in 2023. But these CSPs aren’t stopping with consumer connectivity. They’re launching enterprise private network businesses at the same time, as a core part of their strategies.

Enterprises will start deploying private cellular—but not necessarily on 5G:

Many businesses spent 2022 conducting early trials and proof-of-concepts (PoCs) for private cellular networks, and will be ready to take them into large-scale production this year. Initially though, look for most deployments to use 4G/LTE technology. The exception will be industrial use cases that can benefit from the lower latencies, enhanced power efficiency, and Industrial IoT radio features of 5G. Even here, most early private networks will be Non-Standalone (NSA), using 5G radios connected to 4G cores. We may start to see 5G Standalone (SA) private networks with full 5G cores towards the end of 2023. At that point, 3GPP Release 16 equipment will start hitting the market, and enterprises customers will have gained enough confidence in their delivery partners to push forward.

5G Private Market Prediction from 2020 to 2028

Momentum will grow for Wi-Fi/ private cellular convergence:

Last year saw significant testing activity around Wi-Fi 6, with many enterprises eager to take advantage of its improved bandwidth, control, and quality, in a solution that’s compatible with previous-generation Wi-Fi equipment. At the same time, many of those enterprises also tested private cellular networks, viewing the technologies as complementary. In 2023, look for enterprises to increase pressure on vendors to enable easier coexistence of Wi-Fi and private cellular, and potentially deeper convergence between Wi-Fi and 5G in the future.

Network Security Moves to the Cloud

Private networks aren’t the only technology poised to graduate from interesting concept to large-scale adoption in 2023. Look for two major security innovations to follow the same path. After years of discussion and testing—accelerated by the explosion of remote work with COVID-19—enterprises will go big on both Secure Access Service Edge (SASE) and Zero Trust solutions this year. 

The SD-WAN market will become the cloud-hosted network security market:
Since Gartner coined the term in 2019, vendors and analysts have advocated SASE as a more flexible, user-centric security model. Combining Software-Defined Wide-Area Networks (SD-WAN) with cloud-based security services, SASE is well suited to modern workforces, where employees might work from anywhere, and most business applications are hosted in the cloud. Throughout 2022, SD-WAN and security vendors worked to develop a new suite of cloud-based offerings combining flexible networking and cloud-hosted security. This year, these solutions are now mature enough for wide-scale adoption. By late 2023, we expect SASE to start to become the dominant model for enterprise networks. 

Zero Trust will become the default network access framework:
Similar to SASE—and often included in SASE offerings—Zero Trust authentication models have been discussed by enterprises for several years, if not yet widely adopted. Also similar to SASE, 2023 will be the year that many such discussions and trials turn into real-world implementations. As businesses support more remote and home-based workers, and host more applications and resources in the cloud, traditional perimeter-based security models look increasingly outdated. Zero Trust offers a compelling alternative, adding critical new layers of context and granularity to authentication, and locking down access by default unless the right conditions are met. With many businesses planning to bring workers back to the office this year, they’ll need to support a complex mix of on-campus, home-based, and work-from-anywhere employees. Zero Trust solutions, with or without SASE, will offer an attractive solution.

SASE Network Architecture

Preparing for the Future

Which businesses will emerge as the key beneficiaries of private cellular networks, and how will these infrastructures translate to a competitive edge? Who will become the early market leaders in SASE, and which cloud-based security services will prove decisive for customers? These are just a few of the questions that the coming year will answer. Even working directly with the companies rolling out new technologies, we can’t say definitively how these innovations will be used by customers, or which new requirements and opportunities they’ll create. But we can’t wait to find out.