In this article

With the majority of enterprise traffic traversing a wireless network at some point in its journey, C-level leaders are keen to do whatever they can to improve wireless connectivity across the entirety of their organization. 

Private cellular networks can help and have distinct advantages over Wi-Fi. However, these networks are fundamentally different than what enterprise IT teams are used to deploying and managing. Before jumping in, it's important that leaders understand the basics of private wireless networks.

What are private cellular networks?

Private cellular networks come in two forms: 4G-LTE and 5G. In each case, an enterprise owns a local and private cellular network that includes cell site and core network servers. 

Organizations can buy or lease spectrum. Likewise, they can build and operate their own solution, or opt for a solution managed by a service provider. Unlike Wi-Fi or a public cellular network, traffic over the private network is free from any interference. 

Why are enterprises turning to private cellular networks?

Without interference from other users or devices, private cellular networks are perfect for mission-critical applications that can't afford a dropped connection. Organizations can customize and optimize these networks for extremely low latency to support specific service level agreements.

One of the biggest benefits of private cellular networks is the coverage they provide, offering superior range indoors and outdoors. Without needing to search for the nearest access point, highly mobile devices also benefit from seamless handovers for continuity of service.

In addition to reliable, low-latency and highly mobile connections, private cellular networks can extend coverage areas with a relatively small infrastructure footprint, making this approach much more cost effective for certain use cases. 

How are enterprises using private cellular networks?

Nearly every vertical can find compelling use cases for building a private cellular network — from manufacturers eliminating wired connections on plant floors, to utilities reducing manual sensor readings, to port authorities improving asset tracking. 

Outside of these industry-specific examples, below are cross-vertical use cases that offer a high-level sense of the outcomes your organization might enjoy from adopting a private cellular network. 

  • Outdoor wireless backhaul for IoT and video: Eliminate up to 75 percent of costs associated with fiber and cabling.
  • Clean spectrum for smart devices: Lower the cost of operator contracts for cellular service on staff devices.
  • Latency sensitive connectivity for IoT: Significantly reduce operational expense due to improved uptime.
  • Connectivity for autonomous robots and vehicles: Faster adoption of technology that demands real-time compute.
  • Rugged tablet and push-to-talk handset connectivity: Improved productivity due to ease of use and predictable coverage.
  • Collaboration applications on staff-operated devices: Eliminate downtime during congestion and movement of devices.

Common misconceptions

Private cellular means 5G

One of the biggest misconceptions when it comes to private cellular is that 4G-LTE is in the rear-view mirror. In reality, the 5G spectrum that can be bought or leased by enterprises has yet to be certified. Today, enterprises building a private cellular network will initially have to go down the path of 4G-LTE, which will set them up for 5G in the future. This shouldn't be a deterrent as 4G-LTE offers plenty of bandwidth and low enough latency to satisfy a variety of use cases. 

Existing devices are ready to go

Many mobile devices in enterprise operations today are only enabled for Wi-Fi, not the spectrums used in private cellular networks. Enterprises will need specific LTE-enabled devices to take advantage of private wireless. This shouldn't be a deterrent either. While there are fewer types of LTE-enabled devices, they are far less prone to security vulnerabilities than traditional Wi-Fi devices.

Designing private cellular networks is like designing Wi-Fi networks 

Enterprise wireless teams are increasingly being asked to explore private cellular technologies. When they do, they're often surprised at how different RF designs are between private cellular and Wi-Fi networks. Tools to design Wi-Fi networks have been around for a long time and are relatively cheap. By contrast, tools to design private cellular networks can be expensive and have a steep learning curve. Wireless teams would benefit from the guidance of a partner experienced specifically in private cellular network designs.

Private cellular networks will replace Wi-Fi

Private cellular networks can sometimes be misconceived as Wi-Fi replacements when in reality they are designed to augment Wi-Fi. First, moving non-mission-critical Wi-Fi traffic onto a private network would defeat the purpose of investing in a crystal-clean spectrum free of interference and congestion. Second, there simply isn't enough spectrum available with 4G-LTE, or even 5G, to achieve speeds comparable to gigabit Wi-Fi

Adopting a private cellular network 

As we've learned, adopting a private cellular network today means investing in 4G-LTE. Specifically, enterprises will want to leverage CBRS, a shareable band of the 3.5GHz spectrum created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015. This band has been appropriately deemed the "Goldilocks Spectrum" due to its ideal balance between coverage and capacity. The technology can both cover broad geographical areas and penetrate buildings while carrying a significant amount of data.

While certain design considerations must be weighed at specific locations to make sure your purchase isn't interfering with an incumbent, private cellular network for enterprises will almost always result in going the road of CBRS. 

Next steps

Private cellular networks are a great option for enterprises exploring a variety of mobility use cases. By getting started with private LTE now, organizations will be well positioned as private 5G networks become a reality. 

If you're wondering which of your mission critical applications can benefit from a private cellular network, we encourage you to explore our private cellular network briefing. Here, our experts will sit down with your team to drill into the specific considerations to keep in mind when embarking on this new and exciting way to enhance connectivity across your organization.