Channel needs to be more aggressive in seizing private wireless opportunity

While Nokia believes its channel is leading the way in adding private wireless to their networking portfolio, even parts of their channel have been slow to adopt and partners of other vendors are worse off and face the risk of falling well behind.

Nathan Stenson, head of the Global Partner Channel for Nokia

The private wireless market has been forecast to reach $8.3 billion by 2026, and while parts of the channel are moving towards that growing opportunity, not enough are. That’s the view of Nathan Stenson, head of the Global Partner Channel for Nokia.

“Private wireless growth figures are in double digits in CAGR,” Stenson said. “Of the enterprise business, our indirect channel is a significant percentage of that, with the total channel business being in the significant double digits. We are now 4-5 years into developing the channel.”

Nokia has approximately 1500 partners across four main partner types: GSIs, VARs, distribution, and telco. Nokia deals directly with the larger GSIs who have customers like Dow and Associated British ports are GSIs, while smaller customers like school boards in the U.S. are handled through tier-two distribution.

“Our main focus has been on the large Tier One and Tier two Telcos,” Stenson indicated. “We are also now committed to the enterprise, while some of our competitors serve this market through the telcos.”

Stenson came to Nokia as Vice President, World-Wide Partner Channel in May 2021, after 8-plus years in channel director roles at Aruba, and two years in the networking division of HP before that.

“My job is really simple – hit the numbers, and to transform around attractiveness to channel partners,” he said.

Stenson said that Nokia is in a strong position in this particular market.

“We were the first to deploy a 4G LTE private network in 2012, and we have unchallenged leadership right now in the private wireless space,” he stated. “We have deployed close to 1000 networks this year, and are seeing a wide uptick across many sectors, such as mining, oil and gas, as well as other extended campus environments where Wi-Fi 6 won’t cut it. We are also seeing IT and OT come together on this, and seeing partners from these different areas combining. In summary, private wireless is growing at an extraordinary rate, and partners are now providing blended IT and OT solutions.”

Stenson also stressed that Nokia’s partners have been comparatively aggressive in establishing private networking practices.

“Many of our partners come out of the SD-WAN, and Wi-Fi 6 spaces, so they have  SASE network practice areas, but they realize that private wireless is now a key enabler,” he said. “These are very hazardous environments where you need things like RF area competence. Our partners have an advantage because there is  a  comparative shortage of that in Cisco and HPE. We acknowledge that our competitors are catching up in some areas, but there are still issues like where they get their radios from. We are very close to plug and play, and are the only pre-integrated end-to-end private offering.”

Stenson also emphasized that the channel is critical in raising customer awareness of this type of newer technology.

“In this business, we tend to talk about particular services where we have them,” he said. “Vendors who don’t have them, don’t talk about them that much. This is why having a channel is important. They proliferate and evangelize the message, which is particularly important in instances like this where an opportunity is not as well understood as it should be.”

Nokia is looking to add more quality partners.

“Good partners deliver good networks and good networks deliver good solutions,” Stenson said. “We are looking to build our partners on our journey, so that they become ever more self supporting in private wireless networking. Likely, they already have a strong level 3 traditional edge networking business. These are the type of partners we would like to talk to. Together in partnership with them, we can take ever increasing part of a market that is expected by be $110 billion by 2030.”

Stenson emphasized that the biggest mistake partners can make in private wireless networking is to wait too long assessing the market before getting in.

“I see all types of partners from Global Tier 1 telcos to smaller partners deliberately contemplating for too long how to take a piece of the market,” Stenson concluded. “This market is here and now. We are winning very large deals today. The market is also starting to be owned now by people. If you believe Wi-Fi 6 is the way to do it, I think you are looking at it the wrong way. There are  certain types of new business where partners with a complete edge networking portfolio will be able to generate new business.”