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Revenue for the global private cellular network (PCNs) market is poised to reach $8.3 billion by 2026, according to forecasts by the IDC. Tapping on the growth of this emerging market, Cradlepoint, together with Ericsson, converges technologies for private cellular that modernizes daily operations and communications for enterprises. Telecom Review Asia Pacific connects with Lindsay Notwell, Senior Vice President, 5G Strategy & Global Carrier Operations, Cradlepoint, to learn about breakthroughs in PCNs and their value to industries.

Private cellular networks, though still emerging, are quickly gaining traction. Can you tell us about the current market for private cellular networks globally and in the Asia Pacific?

The propagation characteristics of Wi-Fi are simply inadequate to support emerging enterprise use cases. While 2.4GHz Wi-Fi offers large coverage at lower data rates, 5GHz Wi-Fi delivers high data rates but a smaller coverage area. On top of coverage and capacity limitations, enterprises face security vulnerabilities – reasons that lend acceleration to PCNs. The advent of Industry 4.0, together with 5G innovations that bring capabilities such as low latency, edge compute and high bandwidth, drives further interest in 5G private networks to support connectivity at scale.

In the words of George Mulhern, CEO of Cradlepoint, “Anything that can be wireless, will be wireless.” PCNs are transforming LAN, similar to the early days of SDN and SD-WAN. We believe that PCNs hold the future of connectivity.

Increasingly, enterprises and governments demand a greater degree of control in an end-to-end environment to achieve enhanced security and performance capabilities. Since Wi-Fi and public networks cannot provide the desired reliability and security in enterprise settings, private cellular becomes a requirement. Widespread adoption of MEC and edge computing fuel the need to be closer to the edge, making PCNs a value proposition. Currently, we are witnessing a rise in use cases across mines, large distribution centers, manufacturing facilities and transportation hubs, where security and interference-free connectivity are critical.

As we know, one of the lifeblood of PCNs is spectrum. Some world governments have started to make dedicated spectrum available for private networks to enable IoT and other applications. For instance, Germany has opened doors to private networks by offering corporate licenses to spectrum. In the US, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) allows unlicensed, lightly-licensed and licensed spectrum to be shared. However, outside of the US, we find ourselves working with operators that possess licensed spectrum to deploy PCNs. Even though operators have been developing the ecosystem to provide private cellular, it is not the same when enterprises can deploy their networks.

What are the challenges for deploying PCNs and how is Cradlepoint making breakthroughs in this area?

Our first private cellular network was deployed about six years ago in the north of the Arctic circle in Canada, to conduct mining in a remote area. To provide wide-area connectivity, one of our partners built a dedicated, on-site infrastructure that provided Wi-Fi and ethernet using our endpoints. This was how we became a hub for wide-area connectivity and got started on PCNs.

In the market, PCNs have been slower to take off in countries when spectrum is unavailable or the process to obtain spectrum is unclear to enterprises. Yet, enterprises are still on the hunt for a solution that is affordable, reliable, secure and easy to implement and use to support new applications. But enterprises must understand that Private Cellular requires proper planning, many components, and expertise. An average enterprise simply does not have the resources that operators do, which is why it is so important to find vendors and system integrators that have the experience and know-how to select the right products for the enterprise needs.

In the industry, we recognize that many manufacturers and operators possess the infrastructure for PCNs, but do not have end-to-end solutions that enable easy private cellular deployment for enterprises. Take for instance CCTVs, robotics and drones that do not have 5G radio built into them: Cradlepoint comes in with endpoints that convert 4G or 5G into Wi-Fi and ethernet connectivity to enable private cellular connectivity. With Cradlepoint software platform, NetCloud Manager, enterprises have more visibility at the edge of the network, while also making it easy for them to manage thousands of endpoints so that these devices can operate seamlessly. Cradlepoint is dedicated to working with our integrator and ecosystem partners to help deliver the best solutions for every niche requirement.

Can you tell us about partnerships forged by Cradlepoint and elaborate on some real-world use cases?

One use case is the mining industry in Canada, where our endpoints powered by NetCloud connect 10-meter high autonomous earth movers that would otherwise incur a downtime cost of $100,000 per hour if connectivity is disrupted. Another use case is ports, where private networks cover a wide area to support connected devices such as cameras to track logistics, safety and security. These networks also play a big role in autonomous logging trucks, shipping cranes and autonomous vehicles for governments. These business-critical use cases require great precision and monitoring, as well as uninterrupted connectivity as it can impact safety. In these industrial-setting use cases, private networks triumph over Wi-Fi.

In the wake of the pandemic, we are also seeing a lot of traction from the public sector, particularly in distance education, where PCNs help to control the content that students have access to. This is the same for corporations with large campuses, where private networks are deployed to ensure coverage, easy management and data that is stored internally.

With our NetCloud Services, we have a platform – not just a device – that eases management and the ability to communicate sensor data to the right places. Our framework has been expanded to platforms like Amazon IoT Greengrass and Azure IoT Central to bring relief to operational work. Essentially, we offer enterprises a private cellular solution at the edge that is easy to use, wide-area, secure and affordable when harnessing emerging technologies.

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