Outdoor Private LTE for Public Safety and IoT at the West Chester University

WCU partnered up with Celona to strike the balance between network performance, security and cost for their IoT infrastructure.

Introduction

Striking the proper balance between network performance, reliability, security and cost can be a challenge for nearly any enterprise IoT project.

This is especially true for projects that involve the need for long-range backhaul connectivity in outdoor environments. For IT administrators at West Chester University (WCU), their initial evaluation of network transport options for a new outdoor surveillance camera rollout found that traditional solutions like fiber optic cabling, Wi-Fi and public cellular fell short in one or more critical areas.

Looking beyond legacy networking solutions, however, WCU team discovered that the right balance could be achieved by way of a Celona private mobile network operating on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.

Where traditional network connectivity options fall short

West Chester University, the largest state university in Pennsylvania, needed to bolster their surveillance camera reach in outdoor spaces across the school's campus.

This required that each high-definition camera be connected back to the University’s public safety LAN so footage could be stored, backed-up and viewed by public safety officers. After determining the physical placement of each surveillance camera, the next step was to determine the best way to backhaul real-time streaming video footage that’s both reliable and cost-effective.

The IT department’s initial idea was to leverage the University’s Wi-Fi network that covered most buildings and common outdoor areas. However, this option was quickly dismissed for a couple of reasons.

For one, both students and faculty rely heavily on Wi-Fi for academic purposes. Concerns regarding the amount of bandwidth that each HD camera would consume --potentially impacting teachers and students -- quickly ruled out the existing wireless LAN (WLAN) for use as backhaul transport. Additionally, deploying a separate WLAN consisting of point-to-point Wi-Fi access points had the potential to create interference with the existing Wi-Fi network.

A second consideration was to trench and run fiber optic cabling inside conduit to the outdoor locations such as parking lots, common areas and campus entry/exit points. While fiber could indeed provide sufficient performance, reliability and secure connectivity for each camera, the cost of trenching and running outdoor-rated fiber within conduit pushed costs well beyond the school’s allocated budget.

Finally, the IT architects at WCU investigated the use of public LTE as a wireless connectivity option. While coverage requirements could be met with carrier LTE, this option raised eyebrows from a cost, reliability and data security perspective.

Cost was an obvious issue as high-definition cameras stream at multiple megabits per second -- even with advanced compression techniques in play. Because carriers operate on a metered bandwidth payment model, this pushed operating expenses past the university’s comfort level.

Additionally, because public LTE is a shared transport medium, the school had no way to prioritize their streaming video traffic across the carrier’s LTE network.Thus, quality of service (QoS) could never be achieved from end-to-end. Lastly, the public safety team had strong reservations regarding the transport of surveillance camera footage across a third-party network. Thus, carrier LTE or5G was expeditiously ruled out.

Celona’s outdoor CBRS network ticks all the boxes

Searching one last time for a network connectivity solution that fulfills all the necessary requirements, WCU staff discovered Celona and found that its privateLTE/5G mobile networking solution satisfies all and then some:

  • Carrier-grade wireless network connectivity without concern over metered bandwidth charges,
  • Use of CBRS spectrum that is clean, interference free and will not conflict with student/faculty Wi-Fi services,
  • All wireless data is transmitted and received on a network that is fully owned and controlled by WCU IT staff, and
  • Implementation cost savings that exceed 50% compared to fiber optic alternatives.

Celona also brings their MicroSlicing™ technology to customers that delivers unprecedented control over per-application QoS. This is a factor that’s incredibly important for latency-sensitive uses like streaming video.

Celona MicroSlicing™ policy was used to identify the surveillance video streams across the network and apply strict QoS policy to ensure that sufficient bandwidth and low-latency transport is allocated to ensure performance.

Cradlepoint routers were used to translate multiple video camera feeds to CBRS based private LTE backhaul, and via tight integration between Cradlepoint and Celona, policies for each video camera and stream were enforced, enabling a wire-like experience.

Future-proofing benefits

Although the WCU public safety and IT departments initially sought a network solution focused solely on surveillance camera backhaul needs, the network has performed so well that the school is actively looking at other IoT-based uses that can add value to their private mobile network investment. This includes projects such as smart parking meters, door controllers and other public safety sensors.

Because CBRS will not interfere with existing Wi-Fi networks and new wireless services can be added without concern over impacting QoS for mission-critical data streams, WCU staff have found a wireless network platform that not only solves their outdoor backhaul problems of today, but also one that can support new IoT projects in the future.

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