Cradlepoint eyes CBRS spectrum to offer private LTE as an escape from Wi-Fi

Cradlepoint sees an opportunity to provide private LTE to enterprises by using the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The company says its wireless routers can be used in conjunction with the CBRS spectrum to provide enterprises with a way to escape from Wi-Fi in use cases where Wi-Fi is not sufficient.

“It’s really about replacing Wi-Fi,” said Ken Hosac, VP of IoT strategy and business development at Cradlepoint. “A lot of enterprises are trying to use Wi-Fi in applications where it’s just not working.”

For example, he said one of the company’s large enterprise customers has a warehouse with 500 high-definition cameras. The company is currently managing the camera connectivity and data transfers with Wi-Fi, but it’s not working very well. It has considered using public LTE to handle the cameras, but that’s undesirable because “there’s no reason to boomerang that to a public network and back,” said Hosac. “And, it would be way too expensive anyway.”

Private LTE would be a desirable solution in enterprise use cases like this because LTE has a lot of technical advantages over Wi-Fi for security and reliability. And now, with the possibility of shared CBRS spectrum, it may become viable in the United States.

CBRS is spectrum in band 48 that is owned by the U.S. Navy. It was allocated to the Navy for use in landing planes on aircraft carriers, but it’s not used on land. The Federal Communications Commission is currently conducting experiments to determine if this unlicensed spectrum can be used by other groups.

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“The whole world is watching,” said Hosac. “If it works, it’s a model for others around the world. Right now, you need an experimental license from the FCC. There are a lot of different trials. We have an experimental license here at our headquarters.”

If all goes smoothly with the CBRS testing, the FCC could allow full commercial deployments by the fourth quarter of this year.

Hosac said the top projected use case for private LTE is the internet of things (IoT), especially in industrial settings “where Wi-Fi has never worked, and they like the capabilities of LTE.”

Wi-Fi and MPLS replacements

Lee Doyle, principal analyst with Doyle Research, said private LTE, especially enabled by 5G, is a big opportunity for companies such as Cradlepoint. “Now that wireless networks will have the same speed and capacity compared to their wired counterparts, it opens up new markets like cellular LTE,” said Doyle. “In certain situations it’s going to be more cost-effective than Wi-Fi. 5G is really going to change this.”

Doyle also said private LTE could even begin to take some market share from wired Ethernet providers. Many enterprises are already replacing MPLS with a combination of cheaper internet connections and wireless, optimized via an SD-WAN overlay. Doyle said that currently wireless is mostly used in SD-WAN as a failover. But with private LTE, wireless could replace wired in certain verticals.

Of the private LTE market opportunity, Doyle said, “This is an argument that this market could be bigger. It certainly could be in the billions of dollars over the next few years.”