Apple’s explicit support for 5G private wireless networks revealed through its new iOS 17 operating system represents a step forward for the industry.
“It shows that Apple is paying attention to private 5G, which is good,” Mehmet Yavuz, co-founder and CTO of private wireless networking startup Celona, told Light Reading.
One executive, speaking on condition of anonymity, explained that Apple’s support for private 5G networks could make such deployments more flexible and versatile for enterprise customers. Without Apple’s support, customers would have to unlock their iPhones before connecting them to private wireless networks.
Others are offering some caution regarding Apple’s influence on the industry.
“Our initial impression is that it adds credibility to the private 5G movement,” wrote analyst Stefan Pongratz, of research and consultancy firm Dell’Oro Group, in response to questions from Light Reading. “At the same time, it is not a game changer and we are not making any material changes to the forecast as a result of this announcement.”
Dell’Oro earlier this year reported that private wireless isn’t materializing as quickly as initially expected. The situation has put pressure on private wireless providers ranging from Verizon to Federated Wireless.
“Improved support [by Apple] it’s more of a ‘nice to have’ for a smaller part of the larger private 5G market at this juncture,” Pongratz explained.
Waiting for the update
Apple in June unveiled its new iOS 17 operating system for iPhone and iPad. It will be released to users later this year. The new operating system supports “private data-only cellular networks,” including those on LTE and 5G.
According to Apple’s iOS 17 support page, the platform now supports private wireless network-ready SIMs or eSIMs. It also allows customers to select preferences for cellular or Wi-Fi connections on those networks, use a geofence to control when users connect to those networks, and support network slicing when autonomous 5G (SA) networks are available.
According to Yavuz, the Celona executive, the ability to set preferences for cellular or Wi-Fi connections is important because current configurations require private wireless customers to, in some cases, turn off Wi-Fi as it is often the default connection mechanism of an iPhone. He said that, with iOS 17, Celona’s customers will be able to force user traffic onto their private wireless network without needing a secondary app.
As for the geofencing option, Yavuz said it’s a smart solution to the problems users experience roaming inside and outside private networks. He said phones currently can use too much battery while constantly searching for nearby networks. By setting up a geofence, phones can quickly connect to the appropriate private wireless network via their location without constantly checking that network.
“We have quite a few enterprise customers using iOS devices,” Yavuz said. “For those customers, these features are really, really important.”
He added that Android phones can support many of these features, but those features are often dependent on the gadget maker rather than the platform itself.
Apple’s recognition of private wireless is an important step for the market, Omdia Principal Analyst Pablo Tomasi explained in response to questions from Light Reading. Omdia and Light Reading are owned by the same company, Informa.
“However it shouldn’t be seen as the beginning of a marked acceleration,” Tomasi wrote. “A leading smartphone maker embracing private 5G is obviously good news. However, many key verticals for private 5G are harsh environments that require specific (i.e., ruggedized) devices. There, this announcement won’t have a huge effect. ”
Tomasi continued: “Overall, the main benefit of this is in the fact that every time a large company or leader in their sector supports private 5G, it helps to reassert the importance of the market and ultimately brings new players, suppliers and OEM or in the private world of 5G”.
“I think it’s exciting,” agreed Yavuz. “It’s great for the entire private 5G ecosystem.”
Celona, for its part, continues to pursue private wireless deployments, including through its partner Verizon.
Mike Dano, editorial director, 5G and mobile strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano
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