5G demand spreads to the 'uncarpeted' realms of manufacturing, warehouses, says startup Celona

A new suite of integrated 4G and 5G radios as well as attendant software allows connectivity in places hostile to both Wi-Fi and cellular.
Written by Tiernan Ray, Senior Contributing Writer
First 5G NR Customer Deployments diagram

Enterprise wireless startup Celona, which two years ago rolled out radio and software products to support private use of cellular networking, on Tuesday announced a suite of new radios and software to support four different bands of licensed spectrum in markets around the world -- what it calls an integrated 5G local area network, or 5G LAN "NR" product suite. 

The new products will play a big part in what the company calls the "uncarpeted enterprise", places such as manufacturing facilities that have been relatively less connected. 

"Over the last nine to twelve months, we have seen really tangible demand in manufacturing, warehouses, oil fields -- places where the concept of digitization is nowhere near what we are used to," said Celona co-founder and CEO Rajeev Shah in an interview with ZDNET via Zoom. "Those are places that, traditionally both Wi-Fi and public cellular have struggled. That's the place where we are seeing the most demand come from." 

Even whole cities can be blanketed with "private" cellular.

The company features the city of Glendale, Arizona as an early marquee customer. Glendale is pertinent because it has many uses cases, with a heavy emphasis on outdoor spaces. "The idea of a large outdoor space of a city is the extreme version" of many of the uncarpeted industries, he said.

Also: Enterprise 5G 'big wave' advances as Celona nabs $60 million Series C

The offering consists of six new hardware radio products, the access points; attendant control plane software known as the Celona Converged Edge, a "controller" service that is compliant with the global O-RAN standard; and the company's management console, the cloud-based Celona Orchestrator.

The radios are based on the 5G "New Radio" specification put forth by the industry standards organization The 3rd Generation Partnership Project, or 3GPP. The equipments support four spectrum bands for 5G use that are being rolled out in markets around the world. 

Those spectrum bands are n48, using the 3,550 to 3,700 MHz frequency range in the US; n78, using 3,300 to 3,800 MHz and n77, 3,800 to 4,200 MHz, in Europe and the UK; and, by the end of this year, band n79 in frequencies 4,400 to 5,000 MHz in Japan, Korea, and other countries.

Celona's 5G radios are designed to meet NR specifications for three times the aggregate throughput of existing LTE 4G radios, one-half the latency, and twice the range and user capacity. In practice, that means uplink and downlink speeds of as much as one billion bits per second, or 1 Gbps, and round-trip latency of under 10 milliseconds. 

As integrated radios, the new equipment allows customers to run 4G LTE cellular networks and then turn on 5G when they are ready to do so. More technical details are available in Celona's FAQ.

A Unique 5G LAN Architecture diagram

The products were announced during the Mobile World Congress taking place this week in Barcelona, Spain, one of the world's largest conferences for the international telecommunications community.

Celona has pitched itself as an alternative to the traditional telecom equipment market made up of Nokia, Cisco, and others. While improving the corporate wireless LAN, Celona's technology aims to fulfill the premise of private cellular, namely, more selective control of the network, the same way that a carrier is able to structure its wide-area network for quality of service.

Pricing and complexity of 5G wireless equipment has been an impediment, Shah contends. "One energy customer told us it took a year just to deploy wireless in two locations," he relates. "The issues was the level of professional services needed to put together the network." 

Also: Enterprise 5G is a software 'revolution,' says startup Celona

Celona's selling point has been that by starting from the ground up as an an enterprise-friendly software platform, the company's equipment avoids such complexity.

Celona doesn't aim to be "the low-cost leader," said Shah, but "we are usually much lower, sometimes lower than half what Nokia is charging," he said. "They are prohibitively expensive -- some customers tell us they can't even get started with that kind of pricing." 

Taking The Friction Out Of Private Wireless Nokia and Celona diagram

"What we are noticing in the last twelve months, what we are noticing, when we look at our significant enterprise engagements, it really comes down to us and Nokia," noted Shah.

Celona's license package starts at $17,000 for a three-year subscripiton for indoor use, with no limit on the number of users per access point. An access point radio can typically support 100 users with speeds of 300 to 400 Mbps.

Pricing and Availability diagram

To date, Celona's customers have been using the company's gear as a 4G LTE private radio network in the enterprise, with a mind to some day adding 5G. Less than 5% of Celona's customers are on 5G today.

"Some customers are perfectly fine continuing with 4G, some of them are saying they need 5G for applications such as machine vision and industrial protocols that require low latency," said Shah. 

"Remember, 99% of enterprises today don't have private cellular, so the status quo is typically Wi-Fi," said Shah. "So, there, the biggest difference is something as basic as [providing] big coverage areas, very deterministic performance, and being able to do it at high security."

Also: Verizon Business taps start-up Celona for private 5G

That means that 5G is "relatively a greenfield effort," said Shah. "You are not hampered by the inertia and legacy that's true in public [cellular] networks, so you're going to be able to jump a few steps and go quick to 5G. So, I think adoption's going to be very rapid."

In the next 12 to 18 months, "I expect everyone outside the US, by definition, is 5G," said Shah, speaking of the company's installed base. "In the US, I would expect 50% to 60% of our installed base, maybe even higher, will be on 5G by this time next year."

As a private company, Celona does not disclose financials. However, Shah noted that the company has garnered 65 customers in two years. The company is "still in the phase of log acquisition," said Shah, but "customers are starting to find us" as word of mouth spreads about the company's equipment, he said. 

"Celona has raised $100 million over three rounds and is not currently seeking additional funding," said Shah.

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