Celona innovates private wireless tech with OnGo, STEP CG

Private wireless networks are fairly new in the U.S., but startup Celona is preparing for a time when enterprise cellular networks will be commonplace. The private wireless startup has proposed new specifications for standards expected to be adopted by the OnGo Alliance, with the goal of using advanced geofencing to enable people to roam from one private network to another.

“While public cellular networks have independent system identifiers that allow mobile handsets to discern different networks, private mobile networks really don’t,” explained Srinivasan Balasubramanian, distinguished member of Celona’s technical staff and lead author of the standards spec. As private networks proliferate, Celona predicts smartphone users will have credentials for multiple networks stored on their devices, and could burn through their batteries trying to connect to networks when they don’t need to. “This proposal fixes that,” said Balasubramanian.

Celona submitted the specification to the network services task group at the OnGo Alliance for its Release 5 specification. It calls for combining GPS coordinates, macro network RF footprints, tracking area codes, and network identifier data to inform devices about the perimeter boundaries of geographically dispersed private cellular networks for which they have valid credentials.

RELATED: Celona implements open RAN specs for private 5G networks

Partnership with STEP CG

Also this week, Celona announced a partnership with integrator STEP CG, the latest in a series of alliances between vendors and integrators in the private networks space.

STEP CG CEO Ed Walton said his company has more than a dozen potential projects in the works with Celona, including proofs of concept with multiple NFL teams, a major city airport near an Amazon hub, and a large indoor sustainable farm.

The opportunities in front of STEP CG and Celona reflect trends in the private cellular industry. Sports stadiums, airports and smart farms are all investing in private networks. Stadiums and airports are both venues that have traditionally balanced network capacity between staff doing mission-critical work and thousands of visitors. The demands on workers rise as more people enter the venue, so networks can become congested just when employees need them most. Moving internal traffic to a private network can alleviate this, and can also open new potential use cases, like facial recognition for ticketing or security clearance.

New use cases are a motivator for many STEP CG customers that are exploring private wireless, according to Walton. The integrator works with several vendors that offer private wireless solutions. The firm has more than 5,000 customers across government, education, retail, assisted living, event venues and other industries.

Walton said interest in LTE is high across industries, because of the availability of CBRS spectrum and the lower price points for unlimited data plans that use public networks. STEP CG automates network management for these customers, so IT managers can monitor private LTE networks from dashboards.

Vendors and integrators that can make private LTE comparable to Wi-Fi in terms of cost and ease of use will have a market advantage, Walton predicts, and that’s one reason he values the Celona partnership.

“Celona are enterprise folks from Aruba, Amazon and other places - they understand making it real easy,” he said. “They make private cellular like Wi-Fi.”