The $4.5 billion CBRS auction put thousands of spectrum licenses into enterprise hands, paving the way for companies to work directly with integrators and equipment vendors to build their own onsite wireless networks. Could that leave carriers out in the cold as enterprises start to invest in private 5G networks?

Jennifer Fritzsche, managing director at Greenhill & Co., put that question to Verizon recently at WIA’s Connect (X) Private Networks Summit. She noted that Verizon itself was one of the biggest buyers of CBRS spectrum.

Panelist Arvin Singh, managing director for Verizon Business’s 5G and Edge Innovation unit, readily acknowledged that some private networks will be built without carrier involvement. But the glass is more than half full, in his view, because many companies will look to carriers for network expertise even when they don’t need that carrier’s spectrum. Singh said this is already happening for Verizon.

“Verizon does not own international 4G/5G wireless infrastructure, but we’ve been selling private 4G/5G wireless capacity in places like EMEA, where spectrum policy allows clients to acquire spectrum,” Singh noted. The carrier recently announced an agreement to build a private network for the U.K.’s Port of Southhampton in partnership with Nokia.

For U.S. customers that do want to use Verizon’s spectrum, the carrier recently launched On Site 5G, a private networks solution leveraging the carrier’s mmWave spectrum. Singh said that in the future Verizon will add C-Band and CBRS spectrum to this offering.

“Getting a dedicated, indoor/outdoor purpose-built wireless network is high on many organizations’ radar, especially as they embark on further modernization of their infrastructure, digitization of their workforce, and other transformation initiatives,” Singh said.

SIngh added that as his team gets into the particulars of what customers want to accomplish, they often find that the enterprise goals can be accomplished with 4G/LTE private networks. But he said that nonetheless, customers want future-proof solutions that can easily be upgraded to 5G.

Use cases are the biggest driver of enterprise investment in private networks, and Verizon knows that many future use cases will require edge compute. The company has invested in edge compute infrastructure with the goal of supporting private network deployments. Verizon’s 5G platform is now compatible with AWS Outposts, the hyperscaler’s platform for remote cloud deployments, and the carrier also has a 5G mobile edge compute partnership with Microsoft Azure to support private wireless.

RELATED: Verizon seeks more operator muscle for MEC in 5G Forum

Singh described private wireless as a “massive opportunity,” noting that the carrier is now able to sell network services into environments that it could never reach with its public network. But bringing radios, base stations and fiber into the enterprise is not always easy. Another member of the Connect (X) panel, Crown Castle’s Mark Reudink, explained that getting clearance to add network infrastructure to enterprise environments has proven harder than expected.

“You have to work with the building owner and then every enterprise within the building,” he said, adding that each enterprise might have a slightly different agreement with the landlord about where infrastructure can go. In addition, he said running fiber on private property can be disruptive to operations, particularly in the energy industry, which is seen a prime candidate for private wireless.

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