Wi-Fi has become the wireless network access method on which we depend to run almost every business and consumer application imaginable. Its success has been legendary. It’s also been a bit of a surprise to those of us who remember Wi-Fi’s humble beginnings within the consumer market and as a secondary network used primarily by IT staff to troubleshoot IT problems.
Today, we depend on Wi-Fi for nearly everything. From peer-to-peer communication across Zoom, automation on the manufacturing floor, to retail transactions, 802.11 has become the de facto network technology due to its mobility, affordability, and convenience.
Still, its popularity across enterprises, households, and venues around the world, and the exponential growth of wireless traffic and mobile data, is outpacing the existing Wi-Fi infrastructure’s capacity, coverage, and capabilities. Naturally, Wi-Fi technology continues to evolve as new IoT devices flood the market driving even greater demands for more secure and deterministic wireless connectivity. But is it enough?
Widely promoted as the next generation of consumer wireless, 5G is driving more demand for private mobile networks as it finds its way into enterprise verticals, public venues, and industrial organizations. Just as Ethernet needed a secondary network, so too does Wi-Fi.
New mission-critical applications, such as video surveillance, robotics, IoT, and warehouse automation can simply no longer tolerate anything less than robust wireless connectivity and predictable performance that isn’t subject to the wireless interference, media contention, and roaming issues that have historically hindered the use of wireless within the enterprise.
Cellular Broadband for the Masses
Enter Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS). CBRS operates within the 3.5 GHz mid-band cellular spectrum. Originally designed for the U.S. Navy, CBRS was renamed “the innovation band” when the FCC and other telecom regulatory bodies around the world recognized its potential. So, they began efforts to open up the technology for unlicensed use instead of just auctioning the spectrum to the highest bidders. This was the first time, since the advent of Wi-Fi, that “free” wireless spectrum became widely available – effectively transforming the wireless landscape.
As a result, businesses looking for new options for enterprise wireless are now embracing this new cellular technology. Unlike other wireless alternatives, CBRS brings important new capabilities, such as network-scheduled client access, interference-resistant qualities, uninterrupted roaming, and more than 5 to 10 times greater coverage indoors and out with always-on data encryption and remarkable power management.
Because it can be used in an unlicensed fashion, CBRS now gives enterprises the ability to own and operate their own private LTE/5G mobile networks without costly and cumbersome carrier contracts.
More specifically, CBRS makes it possible to cost-effectively and quickly deploy a robust cellular network that completely complements existing enterprise Wi-Fi services. Simply put, CBRS offloads a massive amount of pressure from Wi-Fi while addressing vital business application requirements that Wi-Fi can’t. Understanding this, big tech players such as Samsung, Google, and Apple have all announced growing investments in this explosive private mobile networking market.
Now, the convergence of 5G, IT, and operational technologies (OT) coupled with an increasing diversity of critical mobile/IoT applications is driving private cellular connectivity to enterprise environments as a complement to Wi-Fi and NOT a replacement. In fact, enterprise 5G will give Wi-Fi much more breathing room for enterprises, airports, hospitals, and many other types of venues.
What’s more, with increased demand for private mobile networks in the enterprise, IT channel partners are seeing significant new market opportunities to address rapidly changing connectivity requirements not currently satisfied by available technology options.
We can applaud the smart thinking of the FCC for doing the right thing by opening up the spectrum to the public instead of auctioning it off, thereby creating new opportunities for innovation and the economic growth that reaches beyond U.S. borders into Europe and Asian markets.
The Biggest Enterprise Innovation Since Wi-Fi
In my view, CBRS represents the most significant industry innovation within enterprise networking since the invention of Wi-Fi as it’s the first time a new unlicensed cellular spectrum has been made available.
And because it delivers capabilities such as congestion control, seamless roaming, and built-in security, CBRS is uniquely suited to support vital enterprise business application requirements cropping up on corporate networks at a torrid pace.
For more than 35 years I’ve been involved with networking as an operator and investor. I worked for BBN (Arpanet and TCP/IP pioneer) in the mid-80s, early Cisco employee, and as an early-stage investor in Silicon Valley (Mist Systems and Airespace). I’ve also seen many standards that never panned out as well as those that have survived the test of time.
With it, any company adopting CBRS can effectively become a mobile virtual network operator without having to make a billion-dollar spectrum investment. That’s huge.
Unlike today’s consumer-grade LTE and 5G, which deliver voice and data, enterprise private mobile networks must have an operations model capable and to meet the demands of multiple and increasingly sophisticated applications in some of the most extreme use cases. That’s where Norwest’s portfolio company Celona’s distinctive approach comes into the picture.
Celona uniquely combines CBRS with AI-based operations, patented micro-slicing, and a cloud-native 5G service plane. Its private mobile network platform, for the first time, enables existing IT staff to create an enterprise-ready private LTE/5G infrastructure that supports an entirely new ecosystem of IoT systems, smart mobile devices, and cloud-native applications.
And he just might have been understating the importance of this profound market shift.