Celona aims to overtake Nokia in private wireless leadership

Celona concedes that Nokia is the global market leader in private wireless right now.

Celona CEO Rajeev Shah said that based on Nokia’s public earnings reports, the company seems to be garnering about 30-35 private wireless customers a quarter and has about 515 of these customers in total.

He said Celona probably has the second largest market share in private wireless, although the company is privately-held and doesn’t publicly report its customer numbers. Also, it’s only working with U.S. customers, so far.

According to the Global Mobile Suppliers Association (GSA), which keeps track of private wireless customers, in the third quarter of 2022 the number of customers deploying private mobile networks globally reached 955. There was a net addition of 66 customers in the third quarter.

But, whether it’s Nokia’s number of customers or total new private wireless customers, Shah said, “These numbers aren’t something we should be bragging about. It feels like we have a long way to go. I would start talking about numbers when it’s 300 or 400 customers a quarter. Right now, I think we should be talking about why we are not adding 300 or 400.”

He said Celona’s technology integrates with existing IT infrastructure and networks. This stems from the fact that the company has had an IT mind-set from the beginning. Whereas, in his view, Nokia comes from the telecom world and “builds a whole other network for private wireless,” which ends up causing dissonance between the private wireless network and existing corporate networks.

“If you blindly take technology built for operator networks and try to force it into enterprise architecture, you end up with friction,” said Shah. “And that’s what we’re seeing.”

He said he realized that Celona’s approach had an advantage when it was competing against Nokia for an enterprise customer.

The customer said Nokia’s technology would require a firewall between the private wireless network and the existing infrastructure, and its security team was concerned about losing some visibility. “That was the kind of stuff we started to see a lot of,” said Shah.

Enterprise IT folks assume that a private wireless network will bring in radios, which will be integrated in the same way they handled Wi-Fi. But a telco-based approach is more complex and can create overhead they haven’t counted on.

“It’s hard without having decades of empathy with the IT team,” said Shah. “We believe it can be made manageable by the enterprise itself.”

Stephan Litjens, head of Enterprise solutions for Nokia, sent the following comment to Fierce Wireless:
“As the clear market leader with over 500 private wireless customers, we are used to attracting attention from startup companies inspired by our successful strategy and platform approach. Nokia’s leading Digital Automation Cloud platform was created for enterprises from the ground up using the most advanced web scale technologies. Nokia welcomes competition in the private wireless market and will continue to prove its mettle in the marketplace with innovative and cutting-edge technologies such as our MXIE mission critical industrial edge; the industry 1st OT edge that is both ecosystem neutral for enterprises to tap into a wide range of digital enablers, yet comes with a range of connectors to fit in the heterogenous and complex environment found in industrial plants.”

Celona has goals

Celona is setting its sights on becoming the world’s number one vendor in private wireless. It’s planning to debut a new product portfolio in February that targets the global market and different spectrum bands.

In the U.S., Celona has mainly tapped CBRS spectrum for private wireless.

While its platform is spectrum agnostic, Shah said it’s “not a trivial lift” to make radios work on different spectrum. “We do have to invest in it. But the key difference is when people think private 5G, they first think radio. We think radio is table stakes. But real innovation happens on the software stack above, which is where we figure out how it becomes manageable for enterprise IT.”