These observations played a critical role in a customer’s recent decision to go with private wireless because its front-line workers run business critical applications on industrial-grade rugged tablets, always requiring consistent connectivity indoors and outdoors. If the tablet of an employee tasked with inventory tracking goes offline due to poor coverage, the data would only be synchronized with the inventory management system once the tablet re-establishes connectivity. This often leads to omission, duplication and discrepancies in data essential for the business. The customer wanted to avoid this scenario.
Nader: So many companies have been using Wi-Fi for years. Why is QoS suddenly an issue?
Pradhyum: I wouldn’t say this is a new issue, but as connected applications become critical to the operations, managing QoS has come more into the fore front. Running applications like voice, video and robotics automation requires tight control of QoS parameters such as latency, throughput, and traffic prioritization, which is generally more complex to handle in a Wi-Fi network.
Fundamentally, Wi-Fi uses contention-based mechanisms for a device to get connected to the network. As a result, performance on the network is “best effort.” Devices can get deprioritized by others on the network and, therefore, may suffer slow speeds or experience high latency. But with private wireless technologies such as Celona’s 5G LAN, the enterprise IT administrator can setup data bandwidth and latency requirements on a per device or even per application basis. So, priority devices will always experience a consistent QoS, even as overall network traffic increases, thus meeting service level objectives.
Nader: I know private wireless uses local spectrum such as CBRS, n48 and n78 bands. But what happens if the network fails for some reason?
Pradhyum: Unlike a public cellular network, private cellular network redundancy can be built into the solution since the private network is local and managed by the enterprise. For example, the Celona 5G LAN solution supports redundant APs and edge gateways to ensure a highly available network. Also, Celona Edge has intelligent spectrum management built in to dynamically optimize network performance based on available spectrum.
Administrators can always set up devices to fall back on a public network, depending on the coverage area. The handoff for the front-line worker – the device user – would be seamless, especially if using Zebra devices that are compatible with both private and public 4G/5G cellular network technology.
Editor’s Note: Zebra has been working with all the major infrastructure vendors and doing a lot of engineering to ensure Zebra devices support 4G / 5G private networks in both licensed and unlicensed bands, to include CBRS in North America. To learn more, click here.
Nader: When you say locally, do you mean independently, as in within the organization? Could the network admin technically be offsite?
Pradhyum: The APs and the edge (running the 4G/5G core, unified data plane, routing, and functions) are setup on-premises where the network is being used. However, the orchestration layer is a cloud-based network administration platform. This allows an IT manager to setup the network services and policy remotely.
Nader: How does the security compare to Wi-Fi?
Pradhyum: Many Wi-Fi networks utilize pre-shared keys and open SSIDs to allow for IoT and/or guest device connectivity – opening doors to additional risk factors for critical enterprise infrastructure.
Private wireless uses strong device identification and authentication as well as robust encryption mechanisms for data in-flight and at rest. In addition, SIM-based authentication ties each device to a physical SIM or embedded SIM (eSIM) that can be strictly controlled and tracked.
Nader: What is the time to value for the average private wireless network deployment? And how does it compare to Wi-Fi?
Pradhyum: Since the installation of indoor private wireless APs is similar to Wi-Fi, time to value is comparable. The primary difference is that private wireless requires fewer APs, so that’s something to keep in mind. However, there is a significant time to value advantage in an outdoor private wireless installation since Wi-Fi always requires a larger number of AP in addition to trenching and cabling. Private wireless requires less than one-tenth the number of APs that Wi-Fi does, and since private wireless APs can be mounted on a rooftop, installation costs are lower.
Also, one doesn’t have to be an expert to adopt and manage a private wireless network. A private wireless solution provider like Celona or our partners will help customers with the RF design and network design and propose all the components required. Once installed, the 5G LAN private wireless network integrates seamlessly to the existing LAN and can be operational within hours. Since the management of the network is all cloud-based, it is very similar to managing a Wi-Fi network.
Finally, with Zebra devices being 5G LAN certified, customers don’t have to worry about interoperability issues and can further reduce time to value.
Nader: If Wi-Fi is working well indoors, but there are connectivity issues outdoors, would it make sense to go ahead and rip and replace the network infrastructure outdoors to transition to a private wireless network?
Pradhyum: It depends. If you have an existing Wi-Fi network that meets your needs, then there is no reason to switch to private wireless. If you have coverage issues with Wi-Fi (especially outdoors), are deploying new technologies like AMRs or just setting up a new network from the ground up, consider private wireless. Rather than patch the solution with more Wi-Fi access points, a private wireless solution can provide a much more robust alternative.
The chart below shows that in case of private wireless, you only need 17% of the number of Wi-Fi APs for indoor scenarios and 6% of the number of Wi-Fi APs for outdoor scenarios for the same level of coverage. When you factor in the installation costs, you will see that the blended 3-yr TCO (indoor+ outdoor) of private wireless is 32% of the TCO of Wi-Fi.