Partner Use Case | Warehouse Workers Leverage Private Cellular for Better Network Control and Uninterrupted Wireless LAN Connectivity
In this article
This use case was written and contributed by our partner, Cradlepoint.
Challenge — When Cradlepoint operations outgrew its warehouse footprint and decided to upgrade, the IT team knew the larger building would need high-performance, reliable Wireless LAN connectivity to operate the growing number of applications and devices that enable workers to fulfill orders efficiently. Any snag with technology or downtime threatens the company's ability to meet customer expectations.
Solution — Deploying Cradlepoint's own NetCloud Private Networks solution, the new warehouse has a dedicated private cellular network that provides the reliability, determinism, reach, and security required for its most business-critical applications and devices — while leaving room for any they might add in the future.
Benefits — NetCloud Private Networks' ability to give IT teams total control over the network provides seamless coverage and mobility across the entire warehouse, allowing production teams to confidently package and ship out orders within service-level expectations. This also streamlines the deployment process for better flexibility to scale and add more use cases. And with centralized management, administrators can easily manage and monitor users, traffic, and security policies from anywhere.
David Beilke, director of operations quality engineering, Cradlepoint
Founded in 2006 and headquartered in Boise, Idaho, Cradlepoint offers a range of products and services that enable organizations to establish reliable and secure wireless networks in various environments. Along with cellular routers and adapters, Cradlepoint offers tools such as a cloud based network management platform, SD-WAN, and wide-ranging security services. To accommodate growth, Cradlepoint moved its warehouse to a facility double the square footage of its previous building and upgraded the technology within it to keep up with increasing customer demand. Here, several functions take place, including order management, services support, order fulfillment, production processes, and Return Merchandise Authorization (RMA) analysis. But to perform these functions, teams rely on connected devices such as tablets and barcode scanners to effectively inventory, package, and ship orders within 24 hours. With so many devices dependent on constant, secure connectivity, having a dedicated Wireless Local Area Network (WLAN) became more important than ever to address the challenges typically associated with these facilities.
Wi-Fi networks are subject to congestion and interference due to the number of access points required for good coverage, which can lead to slow Internet speeds, dropped connections, and other performance issues that could impact the productivity and efficiency of Cradlepoint operations.
"In the past, we've experienced problems with our wireless access points. When they go down, our warehouse operations are immediately impacted," said David Beilke, director of operations quality engineering, Cradlepoint.
Warehouse environments both large and small are very dynamic and particularly challenging to support from an RF perspective — equipment, people, pallets, material, and products are always moving around.
In a large warehouse facility, infrastructure is constantly changing — boxes are moving on and off the shelves, and devices are roaming to different areas of the building. This means connections must be stable and robust enough to power mobile use cases, such as scanners, forklifts, and more — regardless of location.
Wi-Fi is not an ideal solution to support this level of mobility. As connected devices move throughout a building (effectively roaming across multiple Wi-Fi access points), they often lose connectivity before reconnecting to a new access point. In some cases, Wi-Fi clients are stuck to an access point too long, even when a better-situated access point is in range (also known as "client stickiness"), resulting in a negative user experience.
When using Wi-Fi, businesses expose themselves to security threats like hacking due to weak passwords and insufficient encryption. Additionally, if not properly designed, security risks within Wi-Fi networks are further amplified, which can lead to potential man-in-the-middle attacks where an attacker can intercept and steal sensitive information, including usernames and passwords.
To ensure the warehouse operates as efficiently as possible, and to successfully run business-critical applications, network administrators deployed the company's own end- to-end private cellular solution: Cradlepoint's NetCloud Private Networks. With a private network, the warehouse's network is free of congestion and security issues that could negatively impact operations, allowing IT teams to focus on other important tasks like controlling traffic, users, and security policies — all of which can be done using Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager for a single-pane-of-glass experience.
Setting up NetCloud Private Networks included the deployment of cellular access points (CAPs) leveraging industry spectrum, private SIMs within each edge device, the Mobility Gateway (cellular core), and the WAN edge router to physically connect this wireless LAN to the Internet. Cradlepoint installed CAPs distributed throughout the warehouse and a Mobility Gateway in the server room, which serves as the "brains" of the network and determines which devices can access the network and how traffic moves.
"Operating on the NetCloud Private Network has been just as easy as operating on a Wi-Fi network, but with much more reliability," said Beilke.
Many private cellular solutions often require the end customer to piecemeal a solution together from different vendors without a single interface for configuration and management. A cohesive solution from a single vendor, such as NetCloud Private Networks, simplifies the deployment, management, and support processes, ensuring a more seamless and reliable private network experience. NetCloud Manager also allows IT teams to identify, isolate, and remediate faults through a single pane of glass.
Having visibility and control over the private cellular network enables Cradlepoint to easily provision, configure, and monitor what devices are connected to the network and how they are performing in real time. IT teams can control network traffic and quality of service (QoS) to provide reliable connectivity to the devices that need it most.
"My team is able to monitor NetCloud Private Networks easily through NetCloud Manager. We can monitor connectivity issues, latency, packet loss, and any jitter within the Cradlepoint network, and the functionality is simple to use," said Kory Harker, network infrastructure manager, Cradlepoint.
Private cellular networks provide robust security features, including encryption, authentication, and secure IPsec tunnels, which make controlling and monitoring access simple. Because this private network operates on shared spectrum (CBRS) and uses SIM-based authentication to encrypt and protect data, Cradlepoint's warehouse network attack surface is reduced to only the devices that have access to the public cloud, such as the WAN edge "backhaul" router. This, in turn, enables a much more robust solution to secure the entire network, with possible security measures that include zero trust solutions.
"Private networks offer better protection against unauthorized access and data breaches compared to Wi-Fi, which is important for warehouses that handle sensitive or confidential data," Harker said.
Private networks are most reliable in this type of environment because they offer better coverage throughout the entire building with fewer access points. Unlike Wi-Fi, where clients make roaming decisions, cellular networks efficiently load balance the network and hand off client devices between access points as they move around, minimizing disruptions and keeping devices connected, no matter their location. This means production teams can inventory, scan, and ship orders anywhere in the facility (inside or outside) without the risk of a weak signal or dropped connection.
"Private cellular is much more resilient and will handle this changing, dynamic environment better than public cellular or Wi-Fi," said Jake Smith, lead product manager, Cradlepoint.
Cradlepoint plans to expand its warehouse use cases and install high-definition video surveillance cameras, digital twin applications, and AI-enabled cameras to monitor workers and forklifts in high-congestion areas to avoid collisions and enhance the safety of employees.
With NetCloud Private Networks, enabling new applications and use cases is easy. New devices are directly connected to the private network using private SIM cards or eSIMs, and new CAPs can be added as the warehouse expands and applications move outdoors.
"So far, network performance has been rock solid, and we are learning about new use cases every day," Harker said.