This week network startup Celona became the first network vendor to offer a cellular wireless solution designed specifically for businesses. The offering is based on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, which is what I expect most private 5G vendors to use. However, Celona is simplifying end-to-end operations through the use of AI orchestration, similar to the way many Wi-Fi vendors have come to market recently.
This is significantly simpler than the way carrier-grade solutions operate where the traditional radio vendors, such as Nokia, Ericsson, Mavenir and others offer the radio functions; then the orchestration software is delivered from a second company such as VMware or IBM Red Shift. Tying these environments together often requires a systems integrator that introduces a third vendor.
Celona takes an end-to-end approach to private 5G
By coming to market with an “end-to-end” solution, Celona has greatly simplified the implementation to the point where the deployment would be a similar experience to what network engineers are used to with enterprise Wi-Fi. This is key for adoption, because enterprise network operations should not have to drastically alter the way they work to deploy private 5G, even though it’s a new technology. Looking back, 4G was supposed to come in-building but never did. One of the reasons it failed was the deployment model was too complicated.
Another option would be to use a 5G service provider--such as Verizon or AT&T--and some small organizations might do this, but most large companies want more control of the network and to own their own data. If a service provider is used, it’s likely the organization would need to buy its own data back from the 5G operator. Given that we live in a world where everything and everyone is connected, network data has a tremendous amount of business value, and organizations need to control and own it; but that’s not the business model of a mobile operator.
Unlike 4G, Enterprise 5G is for real
In the past, I’ve been somewhat of a private 5G skeptic and felt Wi-Fi was good enough, but that’s the point. Wi-Fi is good enough for the average mobile worker but, for many use cases, good enough isn’t really good enough. This is why most companies won’t put mission-critical systems on Wi-Fi. Consider devices in hospitals, manufacturing floors and other such endpoints. Organizations will give up the ease of wireless for the assurance of wired. 5G brings both.
Wi-Fi leader Aruba partners with Celona
I know many eWEEK readers are hard-core Wi-Fi fans and are likely skeptical. However, one proof point that private 5G is for real is the fact that Aruba, a Hewlett-Packard Enterprise company, will be reselling Celona’s entire line of products. Aruba is one of the market leaders in Wi-Fi, and the fact that it is jumping on the private 5G bandwagon is a testament to the market opportunity.
It’s important to understand this: I’m not saying 5G will cannibalize and displace Wi-Fi overnight, but I do think businesses will augment their current Wi-Fi strategy with 5G. From there, as more 5G-capable laptops and other traditional Wi-Fi products come to market, 5G will likely expand its footprint and co-exist with Wi-Fi. Long term, 5G might replace Wi-Fi but, if that happens, it's still many years out.
Details of the Celona solution:
- Celona RAN, which is a set of enterprise-optimized indoor and outdoor CBRS LTE access points that provide up to 25,000 square feet and 1 million square feet of coverage respectively. The radio functions, such as power levels and channel frequency assignments, are fully automated via Celona software, obviating the need for manual intervention
- Celona Edge is the private 5G core that’s designed to integrate into any enterprise network configuration and access control policies. Deployment options include on premises, in the cloud, at the edge or any combination for a hybrid deployment.
- Celona Orchestrator is the AIOps platform that enables remote installation of the Celona infrastructure and software across multiple enterprise sites and allows for provisioning of Celona SIM cards. The software provides advanced monitoring and keeps track of application and device-specific metrics via Celona’s MicroSlicing feature, which ensures consistent service delivery.
Celona paves a path to intent-based networking
One of the interesting aspects of Celona’s approach is that it can pave a path to a full intent-based networking (IBN) environment. The vision of a fully autonomous network that adapts as the business changes is something almost all vendors are working toward. In reality, this hasn’t come to fruition for a number of reasons, including the flaky nature of Wi-Fi which uses a shared unlicensed spectrum, inconsistent WAN bandwidth and outdated Wi-Fi controllers, some of which were built in the early 2000s.
Celona’s solution addresses many of these issues. The 5G radios offer much more predictable performance. Wi-Fi 6E could as well, but other versions of Wi-Fi do not. The cloud-native radio and core functions bring the benefits of “software-defined” to wireless connectivity and allow for end-to-end orchestration.
Celona also tightly integrates the network and radio functions with orchestration, and this is key to IBN. As pointed out earlier, the carrier-focused 5G equipment manufacturers leave the orchestration to a third party. Lastly, AI is used to create a closed-loop system that learns and gets smarter over time. Some vendors can do this at the network or orchestration layer, but no one has tied the two together, and this is what enables the full self-driving network to become reality.
The era of private 5G has arrived; it initially will augment Wi-Fi and possibly displace it long term. At a minimum, network professionals should look into 5G as a way to bring the benefits of wireless to mission-critical systems with an eye to expanding the network down the road.
Zeus Kerravala is an eWEEK regular contributor and the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. He spent 10 years at Yankee Group and prior to that held a number of corporate IT positions.