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Private LTE vs. Wi-Fi for Enterprise: Comparison & Use Cases

Comparing private LTE vs Wi-Fi for your business? We’ll explain, compare and contrast both in detail.

Comparing private LTE vs Wi-Fi for your business? We’ll explain, compare and contrast both in detail.

We’ll give you the short answer, then elaborate on private LTE and why some organizations use it, then elaborate on Wi-Fi and why some use Wi-Fi, and finally we’ll help you choose between the two.

Private LTE vs Wi-Fi: Is private LTE better than Wi-Fi?

The short answer: LTE is better than Wi-Fi in terms of interference free operation, lower latency, radio efficiency, SLA (throughput, latency, packet error rate) based quality of service, always-on device level security with SIM authentication and encryption, and infrastructure controlled fast handover / mobility between radios.

In the past, LTE was more expensive, but depending on your application, that has changed. The truth is that both private LTE and Wi-Fi will likely complement one another, depending on specific requirements for applications.

In order to compare private LTE vs Wi-Fi, it’s best to examine each one in detail first. We’ll start with explaining private LTE.

What is private LTE & how does it work?

Private LTE networks are LTE cellular networks—just like the one you access with your smartphone every day—privately operated by an organization, integrated to existing enterprise IT infrastructure.

Private LTE networks work the same as public commercial networks but are built, customized, operated, and optimized by a private organization instead of a traditional mobile carrier. See our full explanation of private LTE.

In the U.S., many private LTE networks make use of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum, which has recently been made available by the FCC for use by businesses. So who uses private LTE?

Private LTE use cases

In another article, we’ve gone in-depth explaining private LTE use cases, but here are just a few use cases:

  • Hospitals & Clinics
  • Colleges & Universities
  • K-12 Education
  • Hotels & Event Venues
  • Stadiums & Arenas
  • Amusement & Theme Parks
  • Offices & Workplaces
  • Government Facilities
  • Public Safety
  • Railroads, Buses & Public Transportation
  • Airports & Airfields
  • Shipyards
  • Mines
  • Oil & Gas Fields
  • Manufacturing & Industrial IoT
  • Distribution & Warehousing
  • Retail
  • Farming & Agriculture
  • Rural & Remote Areas

Now that we understand private LTE, let’s look at Wi-Fi.

Comparing private LTE vs Wi-Fi: Pros & Cons

Let’s compare private LTE vs Wi-Fi across a variety of different metrics.

Speed / Bandwidth. Private 5G is by far the fastest, with LTE being a bit slower but still competitive with Wi-Fi.

Latency. Private 5G offers the lowest latency at few milliseconds, followed by LTE with 30 milliseconds round-trip latency, and finally followed by Wi-Fi with the highest latency of the three, up to 500 milliseconds.

Congestion & Interference. Wi-Fi uses an open, shared, unlicensed spectrum that generally suffers from lots of congestion and signal interference. Private LTE and 5G use centralized orchestration of spectrum assignments between networks to prevent interference.

The unregulated airways that Wi-Fi operates on are open to anyone, meaning a new hotspot or wireless network could enter your coverage area and cause interference. With private LTE powered by private spectrum options such as CBRS in the United States, specific sections of the radio spectrum are allocated and licensed to certain businesses. This eliminates the possibility of any legal interference.

At its core, Wi-Fi fails to proactively identify and reroute signals in the presence of interference. LTE can be paired with artificial intelligence to continuously monitor application SLAs (Service Level Agreement) over the wireless link, and adjust based on available spectrum.

Density / Capacity. Wi-Fi is generally designed to handle just enough concurrent connections for homes or small offices. Private LTE / 5G is designed to handle high-capacity commercial and industrial use. While this won’t impact smaller businesses as much, it’s a game changer for larger enterprises who’s operations span vast distances.  

Coverage. Wi-Fi is generally short-range and covers up to 5K sqft per radio. LTE and 5G take advantage of greater power levels outdoors and support lower data rates at the cell edge to easily cover large areas and outdoor environments - up to 25K sqft indoors and up to 1M sqft outdoors, with a private LTE access point. Wi-Fi was never designed to cover large distances, additional access points, repeaters, and bridges have all been a possible solution to make up for the lack of coverage.

LTE can be scaled through a series of cellular base stations that are appropriate for that coverage area. For example, small cell stations can be placed throughout a building to offer coverage, while larger antennas can be installed outside of a building to connect multiple buildings under one signal.

Mobility. Wi-Fi relies on each device to make the handover / roaming decision across access points as users move around. LTE / 5G instead enables centralized coordination of device handover events between access point radios so enables seamless handoffs by design - removing unpredictability for highly mobile devices.

Chances are if you own a cellphone you’ve never noticed when your phone has switched its signal from one tower to another. This same seamless transition is possible with private LTE, making it an ideal choice for devices that are on the move or large distances.

Scalability. Since LTE and 5G are much more capable of covering large areas, and are therefore more economical for enabling wireless coverage across large facilities, especially outdoors. As the number of access points are reduced, so does the time to get multiple sites installed and operating.

Quality of Service. Private LTE / 5G has built-in quality of service mechanisms to prioritize high-value data of certain applications over other data, just like Wi-Fi. But in addition it is able to enforce throughput, latency and packet error rate service levels (SLAs) on a device group and application basis, thanks to Celona's unique MicroSlicing technology.

For example, hospitals can ensure that life saving equipment is always assigned a maximum packet error rate metric that's enforced within the Celona private mobile network. Prioritization and SLA assignments can vary based on device, application type, network subnet, or a customized group.

Security. Wi-Fi uses an open spectrum that is frequently targeted by hackers. The option to enable network access without requiring authentication or encryption has always made enterprise IT professionals take extra action in securing the Wi-Fi airwaves and infrastructure that it is part of. Private LTE and 5G networks are just that: private. They require an authorized SIM card to enable network access for a specific device - for which centralized encryption of traffic is always enabled.

Unlike Wi-Fi, this creates a secure-by-default environment where only whitelisted devices are allowed to access the network based on the programming of their SIM card. This eliminates the possibility of a wireless password being stolen, leaked, or shared with individuals who are not authorized for access.

How to choose private LTE vs Wi-Fi

In general, Wi-Fi is the tried-and-true option for covering enterprise facilities. Meanwhile, private LTE is the up-and-coming option to cover large areas and support critical applications that have to work.

If your organization doesn’t face strict application quality requirements or congestion/interference for existing set of devices or security challenges, Wi-Fi would work fine. But if your organization requires tight security, wide area coverage, or application level SLAs to meet mission-critical requirements, then a private mobile network is probably also required within the same environment.

Where to learn more about private LTE

If private LTE sounds like a good fit for your business, Celona can help. You can estimate the size of your private mobile network with our Network Planner, and contact us about starting a free trial in your organization.

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