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Wireless Broadband Alliance (WBA): Will one technology eventually be able to satisfy all wireless requirements?
Tim Dyer: While it might seem desirable to settle on a single RF technology to streamline wireless operations, many of the enterprises we work with will employ a mix of Wi-Fi and cellular networks—both public and private—going forward. Their cost/benefit analyses will determine which technologies and deployment models best suit the unique needs of each wireless use case for bandwidth, latency, uptime, budget, and other requirements, creating a wireless landscape likely to be multi-access in nature.
WBA: Why would an enterprise with a proven Wi-Fi deployment want to adopt private 5G networking?
Tim: Tech decisions depend on business needs and application requirements. Wi-Fi does a great job serving non-real-time and fixed Wi-Fi use cases, such as end-user computing. However, historically Wi-Fi hasn’t offered service-level agreements (SLAs) due to its shared, unlicensed spectrum use and frequent connection handoffs as users and devices move. These traits can create latency and dropped sessions that have been well-tolerated by traditional applications but don’t meet the strict uptime and latency SLAs of some newer use cases, which cellular network architectures can better support.
WBA: What makes cellular—and private cellular in particular—a better candidate for certain applications?
Tim: 4G/5G networks excel at supporting ultra-reliable mobility and low-latency applications, such as industrial IoT and robotics, while private deployments allow the enterprise to retain full control over its network data, security, and operations. Private cellular networks have recently become possible with the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the U.S., which makes spectrum in the 3.5-GHz band available for use by private enterprises.
WBA: Why is CBRS important to private 4G/5G deployments?
Tim: CBRS will accelerate and lower the cost of cellular deployments while better meeting each enterprise’s unique application needs. To date, enterprises have used public cellular network services, sharing spectrum with other customers and using special signal-boosting equipment to extend coverage and capacity indoors. With CBRS airwaves now directly available to enterprises in the U.S. and other countries following suit, businesses can opt to build private networks with RF bandwidth dedicated to their own traffic and eliminate reliance on licensed operators.
WBA: Which applications and use cases are you finding are better served by Wi-Fi, and which should use cellular?
Tim: Applications that rely on mobility—even at low speeds—are generally a better fit for cellular technology. Even a mobility requirement of 2 meters per second on a shop floor is too fast for Wi-Fi to reliably support it. For example, autonomous mobile robots (AMRs) require near-100% availability with minimal latency to navigate a facility while avoiding obstacles and connectivity drops that would take them offline and interrupt a workflow.
That said, we’re starting to see converged Wi-Fi and cellular use cases. For example, fixed IoT sensors and cameras that share data with the AMRs mentioned might be supported by lower-cost Wi-Fi. At the same time, a manufacturing AMR, connected via cellular, might move a sled carrying a vehicle chassis from workstation to workstation. At each stop, a “local” robot might grab components for work on that chassis. Those robots and devices are likely to be Wi-Fi connected, so the whole operation may be a blend of wireless networks.
WBA: Won’t it be too complicated and costly to manage multiple wireless technologies, particularly with today’s tech talent shortages?
Tim: It’s true that while enterprises often have strong Wi-Fi talent, 4G/5G operations have historically relied on the expertise of licensed cellular carriers. In addition, it’s estimated that 80% of use cases can be satisfied by Wi-Fi, which is less expensive and more flexible. IT teams understand it, lowering installation and maintenance costs. At the same time, however, cellular offers greater data rates and SLAs currently unavailable with Wi-Fi.
While Wi-Fi and cellular operate independently today, converged wireless frameworks are emerging to harmonize them in the form of multi-access wireless managed services and virtualized software platforms that enterprises can deploy themselves. Wireless convergence will ultimately deliver cost, operational, and sustainability advantages while helping create consistent experiences for mobile devices and users. Keep an eye out for converged platforms and services that simplify IT’s ability to match the right wireless technology to the performance and reliability needs of each enterprise use case.
To read more about CommScope’s converged Wi-Fi®, cellular, and AI-based analytics solutions, and how enterprises globally are using them today, visit https://www.ruckusnetworks.com