Utilizing Private Cellular Networks for Enterprise Connectivity

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Cellular networks have come a long way since the first 1G network was launched by Japan’s NTT in 1979. In fact, the current 5G cellular networking technology is so fast and so flexible that, in some cases, it provides a better alternative to Wi-Fi for enterprise wireless networks. 

That may sound odd at first glance, because in theory Wi-Fi is much faster — it offers more bandwidth and higher peak data rates. In theory, theory and practice are the same, but of course in practice they are not. 

In practice, in enterprise environments where there is very high client density, when people are moving around the premises frequently, and due to a host of other factors, the actual data rates that are achieved may be pretty poor. Imagine a big industrial space with a large number of IoT devices and people moving around on a factory floor as well as in the office space above. 

The alternative is private cellular network, or PCN, based on LTE or 5G technology. One benefit of this to an enterprise could be much more consistent and stable wireless network performance. It’s also more straight forward for network architects to manage capacity: adding  indoor base stations adds capacity linearly, without any of the worries about complications due to interference or channel allocations that you get when adding Wi-Fi access points.

Not that they are likely to have to add base stations very often. A single indoor LTE or 5G base station with a power rating of 1W equivalent isotropic radiated power (EIPR) should be good to cover an enterprise space of 30,000 square feet, or possibly even more. To get that kind of coverage using Wi-Fi you might need between four and as many as ten Wi-Fi APs. 

With multiple APs competing for access and silencing nearby APs while they transmit, Wi-Fi can sometimes struggle to maintain QoS. That can be a problem for applications which have particular throughput or latency requirements. LTE and 5G wireless don’t suffer from that problem because all the base stations can transmit at once. And 5G-based PCNs running on the Citizens’ Band Radio Service (CBRS) frequency band are no slouches: they can run at Gbps and even multiple Gbps data rates. 

Also read: Why 5G Isn’t Just For Carriers

PCN Security and Integration

Security is always an issue with enterprise wireless networks, but at least with PCNs there is nothing equivalent to open Wi-Fi SSID. Data is always encrypted on a cellular network, and the issue of passwords is avoided because authentication is done though a SIM or eSIM inside each client device. That means there is no need for a RADIUS or AAA server. 

This all sounds promising for some large enterprises (or enterprises with a high density of clients), but one big question remains: how do you integrate LTE and 5G cellular networks with existing wired enterprise network infrastructure? 

The answer is that it is now surprisingly simple: New CBRS-capable APs can just be plugged into existing LAN cabling and leverage existing security solutions on those networks.

Of course, a PCN is not the answer to many organizations’ wireless networking needs. Wi-Fi 6 is sufficient for that. But for some, the latest iterations of good old fashioned cellular may be just the ticket.

Also read: The Future of Fixed 5G Networks is Now

Paul Rubens
Paul Rubens
Paul Rubens is a technology journalist specializing in enterprise networking, security, storage, and virtualization. He has worked for international publications including The Financial Times, BBC, and The Economist, and is now based near Oxford, U.K. When not writing about technology Paul can usually be found playing or restoring pinball machines.

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