UScellular and Betacom add roaming for CBRS

Private network specialist Betacom has added UScellular to its roster of partners, and the companies have developed a new network architecture meant to facilitate enterprise deployments of multiple private 5G networks using publicly available spectrum.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is meant to give enterprise networks the benefits of cellular connectivity, including security, reliability, network slicing and of course, mobility. But that mobility typically extends only to the boundaries of the CBRS network, since these private networks don’t usually connect to public carriers. 

UScellular and Betacom are changing that with a new managed service they say will give corporate customers control over their data while roaming between company locations. 

“Enabling device mobility from facility to facility with a transition from CBRS to cellular in both directions has never been solved,” said analyst Joe Madden of Mobile Experts, in a press release. “Betacom and UScellular are breaking new ground for their customers and setting new precedents for the industry.”

The companies said they don’t have any customers for the solution yet but are talking to several prospects. They may target customers inside and outside UScellular’s service area, since the regional operator has roaming agreements with nationwide carriers to give customers connectivity across the United States. 

Enterprises that use this service will be able to provision devices with a single SIM card to enable a consistent connection on multiple corporate campuses and between campuses, the companies said. This is the same experience most smartphone users expect, but this is typically not possible for devices connected to private CBRS networks. This is meant to provide a solution for enterprises that want to connect industrial equipment, sensors or even employee smartphones to a hybrid private/public 5G network.

UScellular and Betacom said they are targeting customers in the manufacturing, warehousing, distribution, retail and public sectors. “These new capabilities significantly accelerate the return on investment for digital transformation and modernization initiatives for organizations of all types, from enterprise to retail to government, and move the industry as a whole forward, faster,” said Kim Karr, senior vice president, enterprise sales and operations for UScellular.

According to analyst Norman Fekrat of Imagine Wireless, Betacom and UScellular are not the first companies to integrate private and public networks with a single SIM. He noted that Expeto and Rogers have also created a single-SIM solution to allow private mobile network devices to connect to public cell towers and then connect back to private CBRS radios in a different location. 

Fekrat added that the bigger opportunity is creating private-to-private mobile network interoperability between different CBRS networks operated by different managed service providers.

Partnerships are paramount

UScellular said its core network will communicate and coordinate with the onsite private 5G network cores deployed at customer sites by Betacom. As an integrator, Betacom has a roster of network equipment partners it can tap for 5G infrastructure, including Druid, Airspan, Intel and Qualcomm.

Betacom also has partnerships with Ingram Micro and Google Cloud. However, the companies said their solution will "reduce dependencies on public clouds for data transfer by creating a private network through the carrier network."

For UScellular, whose parent company is currently exploring strategic alternatives for the wireless carrier, Betacom could be just one of several private network partners. The carrier announced a private 5G alliance with Ericsson last month, and sources close to the company said they expect another partnership announcement from UScellular in the private networks space. 

Other carriers are also partnering with vendors that specialize in CBRS private network solutions. Verizon and T-Mobile have both announced partnerships with Celona. This week T-Mobile and Celona unveiled an indoor neutral host service. Celona said the solution was developed in response to requests from its enterprise private wireless customers, who want better indoor connectivity for their employees and visitors. Celona's flagship neutral host customer is using the private network to support inventory management and curbside order fulfillment, and is using the private network access points to also support T-Mobile's licensed spectrum inside its store. 

"From a device perspective our neutral host offering works just like the regular T-Mobile network," said Mehmet Yavuz, co-founder and CTO at Celona. "The device attaches to the neutral host network using the regular T-Mobile [SIM]. .... If our customers also want to use the same network for private cellular, then other devices with a private SIM provided by Celona would also connect this network."