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31 August 2022

Voice and UC for non-public networks – reimagining services for vertical players

MNOs that seek to deliver NPNs as a managed service need also to think of other capabilities that can be delivered to their users. NPNs can provide a platform for other services – but by doing so, we can reimagine how classical services are delivered in ways that are really tuned to different vertical sectors.


MNOs will deliver multiple NPNs – what else can they provide as managed services?

As industries look to private networks to deliver new wireless capabilities, attention has largely been focused on the latency and performance requirements that 5G can deliver. However, there’s also an interesting opportunity to consider: leveraging the full benefit of private networks from a managed service perspective.

Many MNOs and SIs are targeting the delivery of private networks. Some will be operated by the organisation concerned, but many others will be delivered as managed services. As such, there’s an opportunity to consider what other services can be delivered alongside the connectivity required by the customer.

The network may be designed or optimised for a specific purpose, but there’s nothing to stop other services being added to enhance the core function. For example, while many such networks will be oriented towards the needs of devices and the applications they support, integrating things with other services can make a lot of sense.

Alarms and alerts can trigger other services – we’ve already seen this with IoT applications that connect into call centres, for example. A hospital is another case. If a private network is deployed in a hospital, then it can also be used to support internal communications of a critical nature – between members of care teams and so on.

Can vertically differentiated NPNs also, finally, drive service differentiation?

Integrating communications services with non-public networks would enable more specialised and tailored services to be delivered, optimised for the needs of different vertical sectors. This has long been an ambition for many MNOs.

However, any differentiation today, such as it is, has typically been about presentation, rather than any real and specific differences – between, say, a comms service designed for health and emergency care, and that for a construction company deploying wireless coverage for its building sites. Sure, differences may be small, but the potential is there to discover new needs and then to tweak services accordingly.

MNOs need to start thinking beyond the primary need of the network to encompass such extended functions. If they don’t, other players will step in and seize elements of this market – which some are already doing.

However, there’s another reason why MNOs should be taking a stake here. While NPNs are currently largely seen as closed and isolated, in time, roaming into and out of these will soon become possible (3GPP is working on this for future releases of 5G standards). This means that users of services enabled on NPNs may need to access these (or a subset of them) on public or other networks.

As such, MNOs have a role to play in enabling this interoperability and in setting the policies that govern which service features may be enabled inside the NPN, which outside the NPN, and which users have access to the service and where.

Voice and UC should evolve alongside NPNs to really reflect the needs of vertical sectors

All of this creates the potential for future evolution of current voice, VNP and UC services, not just to serve the needs of very specific vertical users and customers (alongside specialised NPN capabilities), but to, eventually, extend into existing domains, such as the PLMN and fixed networks.

Of course, voice and UC have been around for a long time and, apart from the now commonplace inclusion of video, there’s been little real evolution in what these services can do. With NPNs however, there’s an opportunity to rethink and rebuild these services to meet the needs of more specialised users and use cases – and to add real differentiation to support them.

This differentiation is fundamental to the way in which we deliver services. We’ve been customising logic and call flows for specific users in the enterprise for years – now, we’re looking forward to doing so in a meaningful way for verticals, shaped by the needs of the networks they will demand from MNOs and others.

The network was once built entirely for voice. Now, it’s built for IP, with voice essentially as an overlay. With NPNs, in which networks will be built for multiple purposes, we can rebuild voice in a new way that is better aligned with the services they’ll deliver.

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