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When it comes time to refresh their legacy wireless networks, IT leaders are presented with a challenging question. Should they upgrade to newer Wi-Fi or should they replace existing Wi-Fi investments with private LTE or 5G?

The reality is that the answer is not a simple either/or. Both have their place in the enterprise, and, when properly planned, complement each other quite nicely.

First, it's important to look at how private LTE or private 5G can help transform an organization's wireless access posture for mission-critical applications and wireless devices. To do so, we need to understand Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS), the technology that lays the foundation for private LTE and 5G. 

CBRS: The entrant into private LTE for the enterprise

CBRS is shared spectrum (or "lightly licensed spectrum") in the 3.550 - 3.700 GHz frequency range and is known as band 48 (b48). It significantly lowers the barrier of entry for digital leaders across industry verticals to deploy wholly owned and operated private LTE networks

Some advantages of CBRS-driven private wireless networks include: 

  • Interference-free operation
  • Radio efficiency
  • Consistent low latency
  • SLA-based quality of service
  • SIM encryption and authentication
  • Always-on security at the device level
  • Infrastructure control that will enable fast mobility handover between radios

For these reasons, CBRS-enabled private LTE is gaining traction across many industry verticals, including, but not limited to, utilities, energy, manufacturing, transportation and retail. 

Private LTE technology will accomplish most uses cases that organizations in these verticals are currently pursuing. And, by having a private LTE network, organizations have a clear path to private 5G. Today, more radios implement CBRS for private LTE (b48), but we are seeing a slow increase in the number of CBRS 5G (n48) radios as the market matures.

The coexistence of CBRS and Wi-Fi

Private networks driven by CBRS are especially suited for environments supporting mission-critical applications and infrastructure. These applications and infrastructure benefit from CBRS' higher reliability, superior mobility, longer reach and lower latency attributes compared to Wi-Fi. 

However, Wi-Fi likely still makes the most sense for applications that are not mission critical, such as guest access. Wi-Fi works great at providing those extra lanes for user bandwidth on the spectrum highway. 

Wi-Fi is an especially viable option for devices on enterprise networks that:

  • Do not require interference and congestion-free wireless airspace
  • Do not require wide area coverage
  • Do not require uncompromising security
  • Do not require application-level SLAs to meet mission-critical requirements

If devices do need any of the above attributes, then it's worth taking a serious look at CBRS as it may be a more appropriate technology.

Another case for coexistence is the fact that Wi-Fi devices can be backhauled over CBRS with gateways. Because of its high reliability, CBRS serves as a solid access or backhaul medium. 

Choosing the right spectrum based on your use case 

When facing a refresh, don't fall victim to choosing the same wireless access technology, because "we've always done it this way." While it may be tempting, it comes at the cost of compromising business outcomes, user experience and long-term connectivity goals. 

Instead, let your use cases steer your choice of spectrum. Here are the pros and cons of different wireless access technology for some of the use cases we commonly see with our clients.

Diagram

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Strengths and weaknesses of different wireless access technology based on common use cases, from Juniper/Mist.

Getting started

Of course, every organization's wireless access environment is unique with many considerations at play when undergoing a refresh. To begin the process of mapping technologies to your organization's use cases, we suggest starting with one of our briefings on wireless access technology.

If you're specifically looking to enhance your knowledge about private wireless networks, we recommend our Private Wireless Networks Briefing. If you'd like to learn more about how private wireless networks and Wi-Fi can operate as part of your overall wireless environment, we recommend our Wireless Strategy Briefing