Private Cellular Networking
Why should more organisations consider using Private Cellular Networking?
17 May 2021 | James Bristow,
In our increasingly connected world, the use of IoT devices and high bandwidth applications has become more prolific across multiple industries, and there is a need for broader, more reliable coverage.
Networks with large coverage areas, such as airports, shopping centres, factories, mines, warehouses, stadiums, schools, and cities, often struggle with traditional connectivity approaches, including wireless LAN, public Wi-Fi, and LTE. Wireless LAN and Wi-Fi networks don’t “densify” cost-effectively, especially over large distances, and data charges over public cellular networks can be cost-prohibitive. In addition, coverage “not-spots” can be a common occurrence with public cellular networks, which must also compete for bandwidth. Private Cellular Networking (PCN) can help plug vital reliability, security, and performance gaps in these instances.
According to a new IDC report, the PCN market is exploding and is forecast to reach $5.7bn by 2024. Enterprise and public sector organisations continue to turn to cellular wireless technology for broader connectivity over wider distances with better network performance, security, and predictable bandwidth costs.
So, how does PCN work, and how do organisations know if it’s right for them?
PCN in practice
PCN is similar to public cellular networks. The main differences are that with PCN, organisations put micro towers and small cells on-site, and they often use shared spectrum, which enables the benefits of cellular networks without variable bills or cost overages. Overall, PCN enables enterprises and public sector organisations to implement an LTE and 5G cellular network anywhere (even in highly remote areas), control network performance, control monthly costs, and increase data security.
A PCN user has the flexibility to deploy a dedicated and private network or create a hybrid network by integrating with a traditional mobile operator. Additionally, they can employ a “do-it-yourself” deployment and management model or use a Managed Service Provider (MSP) to do it for them.
Where to use PCN vs. Wi-Fi
PCN is mainly associated with select verticals today for complex networking challenges, such as ports of entry, oil refineries, manufacturing plants, and school districts for remote learning, often with hundreds of users and devices spread across a relatively compact wide area. Wi-Fi is optimised for local environments where the connection density, concurrency of use, bandwidth allocation, and security requirements are less demanding. By contrast, PCN provides a “wide-area LAN” infrastructure that strikes a balance between network capacity, density, security, cost, and reach, commonly a challenge in such environments. Take PK Solutions, an industrial services firm in the US, who deployed an on-site Private LTE network to keep their workers safe and productive by connecting their IoT devices and wearables within the harsh confines of an oil refinery.
However, more shared spectrum is being made available for enterprise users around the world, with the cloudification of cellular infrastructure, like Evolve Packet Core (EPC) and Radio Access Networks (RAN) technology, coinciding with the emergence of commercial 5G. Interest is growing in using PCN solutions to provide cost-effective and secure connectivity across several different industrial and traditional enterprise scenarios, including sprawling spaces such as campuses, warehouses, and even entire cities.
So, what can organisations expect from PCN compared to traditional Wi-Fi networks?
When it comes to the cost benefits of deploying wide-area LAN use cases, PCN can be far less expensive than deploying widespread Wi-Fi. The high volume of backhaul links and access points it takes for Wi-Fi to work well in large facilities makes it a costly investment, with a much longer lead time to deploy. Often, PCNs don’t require as much investment to deploy. Additionally, the radios that support PCN and 5G reach much farther and support more concurrent connections than Wi-Fi access points. In a large area, this means significant hardware savings for cellular broadband.
Increased performance and reliability
Wi-Fi struggles to support many simultaneous connections with the consistent performance required by high-bandwidth and low latency applications, such as wireless robotic devices and real-time video surveillance streaming. PCN enables the end-user to tune connection performance and Quality-of-Service.
Another area where PCN can outperform Wi-Fi is security. The infrastructure used for Private LTE and Private 5G networks enables fine-grain security that isn’t available with Wi-Fi networks, which often only provide authentication and encryption.
Realising the potential of PCN
For enterprises or public sector organisations operating with large spaces, low-latency applications, or complex networking that requires a wide-area LAN, PCN is the future. With enhanced reach, security, reliability, and performance, it can open up new possibilities and keep staff safe and productive in industrial environments. In a world dominated by IoT and data-rich devices, we hope to see more organisations pioneer this change and see the potential of PCN in 2021 and beyond.
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