What Is a Private Cellular Network?
A private cellular network is a local area network that uses licensed, shared, or unlicensed wireless spectrum and LTE or 5G technology to create a dedicated network configured to support an enterprise’s specific requirements within a specific geographic area.
These private networks use company-owned infrastructure combined with back-end software to provide targeted cellular coverage and application-specific service levels. Private cellular networks often work with existing Wi-Fi, allowing businesses to have a more reliable and low-latency network for mission-critical applications and machines.
What’s the Difference Between a Private and Public Cellular Network?
The main difference between private and public cellular networks is that private organizations control all aspects of their cellular network. In contrast, commercial carriers offer public cellular access that relies on shared infrastructure and resources that are used by millions of other customers.
Private cellular networks work just like public networks but on a smaller scale. Thanks to advancements in cellular technology any organization with an IT department can design, build, and manage its own private cellular network.
Unlike commercial carriers, private cellular networks have full control over their cellular resources and budget. This gives enterprises a huge advantage over commercial service contracts, including overage fees and data throttling.
While public cellular networks may seem convenient, they often lack many control features and services enterprises are looking for. For example, public cellular networks provide blanket coverage but fail to integrate with internal applications.
What Are the Benefits of Using a Private Cellular Network?
Private cellular networks were designed to cater to enterprise companies requiring the highest availability and performance. Many aspects of the private cellar model were designed in response to the limitations of commercial carriers and other wireless technologies.
A few key benefits of private cellular networks include the following:
Private cellular networks offer administrators full control over how their data is handled and where it's routed. This keeps sensitive information segregated from devices within the network and ensures your data isn’t mismanaged or left vulnerable by a third-party service provider.
Cellular networks are encrypted by default through SIM authentication, which allows for more robust security and device identification. Unlike Wi-Fi networks, private cellular networks don’t have the option for relying on pre-shared key passwords or open password-free option.
In a private network, cellular infrastructure is tailored to suit enterprise clients in various industries and conditions. Organizations can use a combination of small cells, roof-mounted antennas, and indoor and outdoor access points to meet their unique coverage and performance requirements.
For manufacturing and energy companies, this flexible coverage allows cellular access in areas where it is otherwise impossible. Industrial plants have rural work sites that can struggle to maintain connectivity because of their environment. In a private cellular model, organizations can use their own hardware to overcome these limitations.
Guaranteed Service Levels
Enterprises often have dozens of different applications, devices, and sensors that play a crucial role in serving their customers. Private cellular networks give administrators the power to ensure each application receives the exact resources it needs, right down to the exact latency and throughput requirements.
These service-level agreements are enforced through artificial intelligence that continuously monitors the network and dynamically changes routes to ensure your rules are constantly being met. This gives network operators considerable more control over their resources than standard quality of service settings or virtual LANs.
Lastly, private cellular networks leverage the Citizen Broadband Radio Service spectrum for broadcasting, which has built-in controls that prevent interference from other networks. Even if your neighbor decides to launch their own network, licensed networks are protected by Federal Communications Commission regulations and the Spectrum Access System.
Cellular networks offer seamless handover between access points, which makes this technology an excellent fit for large areas and devices on the go. For example, when you’re on the freeway, chances are you’ve never noticed when your phone changes from one cell tower to another.
This reliability is especially important for low-latency applications such as augmented reality and autonomous machines. Private 5G networks offer the speed, capacity, and reliability necessary for enterprises to scale with confidence.
Private cellular networks were designed to cover a wider area with less hardware and hassle. While this might not move the dial for smaller businesses, this can dramatically improve the speed at which enterprises deploy new services and reach their customers.
A big part of scalability is being able to onboard devices and integrate new solutions into your IT stack as seamlessly as possible. Here at Celona, we take advantage of cloud networking principles to help our customers scale their deployments through automatic provisioning, self-healing, and automated network maintenance.
How Do Private Cellular Networks Work?
Private cellular networks have numerous components that all play a vital role in making communication possible. Let’s break down each component to understand how they all work together.
CBRS Spectrum in the United States
Private cellular networks use the CBRS spectrum in the US to broadcast across the 3550–3700MHz band. This spectrum was initially used exclusively by the United States Navy and Air Force but was opened up for private use in 2015.
There are three tiers on the CBRS spectrum, two of which private companies can broadcast on:
Organizations can obtain PAL licensing through CBRS auctions or through third-party providers. Spectrum access is divided up across the country on a county-by-county basis, allowing private companies to scale nationwide. Alternatively, businesses can use the GAA tier without any licensing at all.
In order to provide targeted coverage, a series of small cells, access points, and antennas are used both indoors and outdoors. Small cells can be mounted throughout a building and are relatively unnoticeable.
This provides network access to different rooms and can help prevent dead zones between buildings across campus. Larger antennas can provide blanket coverage to an entire campus or act as a bridge between multiple facilities for data transmission.
Today almost any device can be connected to a private cellular network with many major brands, such as Apple and Microsoft, supporting this new private model. Devices must be CBRS capable in order to properly join the network. Laptops, cellphones, IoT sensors, edge devices, and tablets can all join a private cellular network.
Each device requires SIM authentication before joining the network. SIM authentication provides device identification and access level across the network. Administrators can choose to provision devices with physical SIM cards or virtually with eSIM via QR code.
Evolved Packet Core
The Evolved Packet Core is the brain of the private network that controls numerous services crucial for the network to function. The EPC also translates cellular and Internet Protocol data, allowing both technologies to work together.
A few sub-components of the EPC include the following:
- Mobility Management Entity - MME manages sessions states, handles authentication, and tracks devices across the network.
- Packet Data Node Gateway - PGW provides deep packet inspection and QoS across cellular and other data networks.
- Serving Gateway - Provides routing and forwarding of data packets as well as handovers between other networks.
How to Build Your Own Private Cellular Network
Any private organization can now own its own private cellular network. Below are a few first steps to get started.
- Plan Your Network: Free tools like the Celona Network Planner help organizations understand their coverage requirements, spectrum availability, and device density in their environment. This step is vital for picking the right infrastructure to meet your needs.
- Select Your Hardware: The hardware you choose will vary depending on your business goals, coverage area, and device density. You can utilize Celona’s Find Your Device tool to quickly identify device types and models given use case requirements.
- Set Your Goals: With your network in place, it's time to start setting up your SLAs. These rules will dictate which applications continuously receive a set amount of cellular resources. At Celona, we integrate directly into your IT infrastructure and can sync with existing service level, QoS and security policies across your existing enterprise network. This reduces onboarding time and helps synchronize your performance across the enterprise regardless of which network a device is on.
- Set Up a Demo: If you’re curious about private cellular or you’re not sure where to start, check out our custom demo. We’ll design a private cellular network tailored to your unique requirements and environment.
The Celona Solution
Celona partners with enterprise organizations to provide private cellular networks as a seamless turnkey solution.
Plug-and-play cellular access points can be quickly deployed throughout the facility, while proactive monitoring ensures network service level objectives, such as throughput and latency requirements, are consistently being met.
Celona uses cloud-networking principles to make implementing private mobile networks an out-of-box experience. Onboarding can be done alongside existing wireless and IT infrastructure, without interrupting business operations.
If you’re building your network for the future, you can test-drive the Celona Solution Architecture for yourself through our free trial.