From hotels to hospitals to universities, enterprises everywhere can relate to the longstanding problem of poor in-building public cellular service coverage. Meanwhile, they want to simplify their infrastructure. But with separate public and private wireless deployments, they’ve been moving in the wrong direction.
Celona Inc. has now stepped in with an all-inclusive neutral host service with T-Mobile US Inc. as the first mobile network operator to be supported. Certified within T-Mobile’s “Bring Your Own Coverage” 2.0 program, Celona’s 4G Citizens Broadband Radio Service or CBRS-based private wireless system can transparently connect T-Mobile subscribers within in-building enterprise environments. For the past eight months, Celona and T-Mobile have been successfully running the new CBRS-based neutral host service with a national retailer looking to cookie-cut the service across the country.
Some might look at this and think it’s just a new coat of paint on the old, distributed antenna system or DAS model, but what Celona is bringing to market is “fundamentally different,” Celona co-founder and Chief Technology Officer Mehmet Yavuz told me in an exclusive briefing.
“DAS is effectively creating a new public cellular network infrastructure within a building or a venue,” Yavuz said. “But that comes with all the cost and complexity of bringing in each carrier’s infrastructure and the requisite new cabling needed. Enterprises don’t like it because it’s just so complex and can literally take years to complete. But they simply haven’t had any choice.”
Yavuz said that “while DAS has been used mainly for very large venues with deep pockets, the moment you want to take it to the mainstream enterprise market, you don’t see many DAS deployments.” The company says its cloud-hosted, multisite, multitenant software exchange technology is at the heart of the solution. Dubbed MOXN, short for Multi-Operator Exchange Network, the tech focuses on scaling up operations and simplifying manageability by removing hardware and giving enterprises more control.
“In the past, time to value with DAS has been measured in months or years,” Yavuz said. “With Celona’s neutral host service, this is reduced to weeks because once you deploy your private network, the neutral host is simply a matter of turning on the service. Afterwards, customers can immediately start enjoying high-quality voice and data services on their devices with T-Mobile SIM, in addition to emergency services such E911.”
This offering should work well for healthcare environments, large retailers, offices, hotels, manufacturing operations and universities. In fact, the company announced one such implementation. Stanford Health Care plans to deploy Celona’s 5G LAN system with neutral host service to bolster public cellular coverage for patients, visitors, doctors and clinicians.
Based on Celona’s 4G/5G CBRS radio access network technology, the solution will integrate with SHC’s existing internet protocol network and connect to Celona’s cloud-based MOXN gateway using T-Mobile service, and the company promises other operators in the future. The SHC implementation aims to improve indoor cellular signal coverage while providing a better user experience. Celona says all mobile subscriber connections are automatically aggregated and directed to the reliable MNO core through a single secure tunnel.
For now, Celona’s neutral host service will be offered only in the U.S., which will support the broadcasting of up to five public MNO cellular services and one private wireless on the same network. In addition, the multi-operator core network will live in Celona’s virtual private cloud, which should remove considerable complexity while providing greater scalability and security.
The private network, the small cell access points and the 4G/5G core will remain on-premises within the enterprise. A cloud-based orchestration system gives enterprises a detailed view of the public and private wireless services in use.
“From a customer’s perspective, they just get the subscription, and they’re able to turn the service on with a click of a button in the orchestrator,” Yavuz said. “Unlike DAS, there is no additional infrastructure for every additional operator that they need to deploy.”
Yavuz told me that total cost of ownership will be lower, up to 40% or more, than competing DAS systems. He added that there are other benefits, including a single management console and the ability to use existing enterprise LAN infrastructure.
A recent ZK Research survey showed that network operations staff wastes 17% of their time and 19% of their budget running separate access networks. So if Celona can do what it promises at that lower TCO, the solution should be a no-brainer for any business deploying cellular.
The demand for public and private cellular has been limited to a handful of industries such as manufacturing, warehousing and public venues, but several trends should act as an accelerant in other verticals, most notably the internet of things.
After years of hype, the information technology-operational technology integration trend is finally underway. Almost every IT pro I talk to discusses the challenge of connecting and managing more “things,” with cellular being the easiest and most reliable way of connecting them.
Certainly, it’s an interesting announcement by Celona, but the key here will be the ultimate ability to integrate with other access technology, such as WiFi. Celona says its APIs can integrate with WiFi dashboards so enterprises can continue working in a familiar way. It will also be critical that Celona quickly sign up other carriers, such as AT&T Inc. and Verizon Communications Inc., to make its neutral host service more broadly appealing.