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Demystifying total cost of ownership for a private wireless solution

As CIOs and CTOs set out on their journeys of digital transformation, they are searching for ways to implement technologies that will boost operational visibility, enhance worker productivity and communications, cut down on equipment downtime, and optimize their supply chain.

One often overlooked area, especially in the industrial enterprise such as manufacturing, warehousing, and refineries, is that deployment of any technology requires data gathering devices, such as IoT, tablets, scanners, and computers, to connect to the network over a reliable and pervasive wireless connection.

While Wi-Fi is great for a traditional office environment, it is not the right technology for large industrial environments. New technologies like Private Cellular Networks (PCN) not only offer better coverage and reliability than Wi-Fi in these environments, but also a lower cost of ownership.  

This blog in conjunction with the Celona TCO calculator attempts to demystify PCN costs in comparison to Wi-Fi. We will also provide some insights into the cost advantages of Celona 5GLAN relative to other competing PCN technologies in the market.

Determining the number of APs

The cost of deployment is heavily dependent on the number of Access Points (APs) needed to provide coverage. This in turn depends on the type of industry, use cases, coverage range, and whether it’s indoor vs outdoor.  While the TCO calculator provides a rough estimate, a hands-on RF planning workshop is required to provide definitive estimates.  

Below is guidance on major factors affecting the number of APs:

  • Coverage area - the larger the coverage area, the more APs are required.
  • Indoor vs Outdoor - outdoor radios are more powerful than indoor and when combined with external omni directional or sectoral antennas in large open industrial spaces, the signals travel un-hindered and can cover large areas with a fewer APs.
  • Environment - a retail store may need a higher density of APs compared to a distribution center due to a higher concentration of shelves, boxes and signage that hinder wireless traffic. Similarly, factories with heavy metal equipment will block wave propagation and will require more APs.
  • Use cases - simple use cases like bar code scanning require very little data bandwidth and can be supported with fewer APs, but use cases involving heavy data upload/downloads, such as video and image processing, the density of APs needed will be higher.

To cover a similar area, PCN requires only 1/5th to 1/10th the number of APs as Wi-Fi. It can be as low as 1/30th for large areas such as refineries.

Celona TCO Calculator

Developing a cost model

  • 3/5yr Cost of APs
    Typical Wi-Fi and competitor PCN pricing models include a one-time hardware cost for the AP, and a 3/5 yr. software subscription cost. Many competing PCN vendors charge an annual fee for software updates, support, and warranty cost that needs to be factored in. Celona’s offers a simpler all-inclusive hardware+ software + support+ warranty subscription for 3/5 yrs. No additional charges for software update.
  • Radio technology
    For most countries outside the US, 5G is the only option for PCN due to local regulatory directives.  In the US, Celona offers both 4G, and 5G PCN networks. 5G PCN being a newer technology is more expensive than 4G. Additionally customers will have to factor in the larger ecosystem of devices available in 4G rather than 5G. Celona also has Access Points like AP20 that allows a path to future proof investment with a software upgrade to 5G.
  • Installation costs
    Since the number of APs required for similar coverage is much lower for PCN than Wi-Fi, the total installation costs are much lower. This effect is more pronounced in an outdoor environment. Increasing Wi-Fi AP density outdoors typically requires installation of new poles, trenching and pulling power/ethernet. On the other hand, due to the range of outdoor PCN APs, they can be installed on roof-tops and existing infrastructure.
    While comparing other PCN solutions, customers should factor in additional dedicated fiber/cabling that is needed for discrete RAN implementations e.g., Central unit (CU) + Distributed Unit (DU) + Remote Unit (RU) vs fully integrated Celona Access Points. In addition, customers should consider additional costs of switches and firewalls needed to connect the PCN network to existing enterprise LAN. Celona’s 5G LAN directly integrates with existing enterprise LAN network without additional switches or firewalls.
  • Site survey/RF design
    Site survey and RF design is a one-time cost that applies to Wi-Fi and PCN designs. It involves a solution architect visiting the sites and creating a proper design for optimal coverage. As the complexity of the system and the number of APs increases, this cost increases as well.
  • Optional In-building public carrier coverage
    For customers buying 4G PCN subscription for indoor use cases, Celona offers an add-on coverage to add public cellular connectivity (only T-Mobile today) using Neutral Host. This is an option available at a fraction of the cost and complexity of a traditional Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS).

Ultimately, comparing TCO for Wi-Fi vs. PCN heavily depends on the enterprise’s needs.  Wi-Fi works well in environments such as office spaces, residential buildings etc., where they can be deployed at a reasonable cost and complexity. Industrial enterprise is a very different environment, where spaces are large, and there is need for mobility, and high reliability use cases.

Just increasing the number of Wi-Fi APs to improve coverage in a given environment will neither be cost-effective, nor provide the level of reliability needed. Private Cellular networks on the other hand, offer greater network performance, but at a lower total cost ownership.  

RF design is both an art and a science, requiring a thorough assessment of the site’s environment, use cases, and technology for precision. While TCO calculators provide some level of guidance on the costs, it may vary based on the specific scenarios at play on-site.

Celona’s TCO Calculator

The Celona’s TCO calculator is now available – you can evaluate an approximate TCO based on real-world Celona deployments in industries such as distribution centers, manufacturing, oil refineries, retail stores and more.  

The tool provides the ability to customize many assumptions including:

  1. Coverage area
  2. Radio technology
  3. Region of use
  4. TCO time frame.

Additionally, you can customize the Wi-Fi costs to get a more accurate comparison with PCN.

Access Celona TCO Calculator >

References
https://ongoalliance.org/resource/ongo-private-lte-deployment-guide/
https://ongoalliance.org/5-bars-indoor-for-everyonethe-power-of-cbrs-and-neutral-hosts-in-wireless-networks/
https://ongoalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/05/OnGo-Private-5G-Deployment-Guide-1.0.0.pdf

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