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University's private cellular network hints to enterprise use

California State University, Stanislaus blanketed its campus in private 4G/5G in a project that shows promise for the future of CBRS networks in the enterprise.

While enterprises are still in the early stages to fully accept and adopt private 5G technology, one university put this technology into action with promising results.

When the Federal Communications Commission opened the 150 MHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum in 2017 for the purpose of private 4G and 5G LANs, industry speculation revolved around whether enterprises would adopt CBRS or simply stick with existing wireless options. Last year, Deloitte projected more than 100 companies would begin testing private 5G networks by the end of 2020.

For the first time since the introduction of Wi-Fi, new wireless spectrum is now available for free, without costly or cumbersome licensing or complex contracts with third-party service providers. The difference is this lightly licensed spectrum operates within wireless bands for cellular data services -- something enterprises have never been able to access until now.

IT administrators at California State University, Stanislaus sought a wireless plan for their outdoor campus. After deploying private 4G and 5G cellular, they were excited about its potential.

The case for private 4G/5G LANs at Stanislaus State

Geoff Cirullo, deputy CIO at Stanislaus State, was tasked with formulating a flexible wireless architecture to address a common issue concerning campus learning across universities.

"At Stanislaus State, we needed to deliver students and faculty with much broader wireless access to curriculum, digital resources and the internet throughout different outdoor spaces due to the COVID-19 pandemic," Cirullo said.

The university's Turlock campus spans roughly 228 acres, so the process of adding Wi-Fi access points (APs) and trenching new fiber optic cabling would have been expensive, inflexible and time-consuming, Cirullo added.

Because university officials weren't sure which campus locations students and faculties would prefer for remote learning, Cirullo's team liked the appeal of private cellular wireless and owning a private 4G/5G LAN network.

The university's IT staff reached out to Celona, a private cellular network provider, for new 5G LAN tools specifically developed for enterprise IT organizations. After consulting with the university's IT admins, Celona architects determined they could cover the entire Turlock campus with just a handful of LTE cellular APs mounted atop various buildings across school grounds.

Once the APs were deployed, admins placed LTE-to-Wi-Fi gateways in strategic locations to provide outdoor network access. These gateways meant the team could avoid trenching and running fiber optic cabling.

The use of private 4G and 5G wireless as a backhaul blanketed across the campus enabled Stanislaus State to easily extend its existing Eduroam Wi-Fi network anywhere on school grounds. The new private cellular network even offered native cellular access for vital applications that can't reliably operate with the inherent latency, coverage and roaming issues present with best-effort Wi-Fi services.

CBRS surpassed expectations

According to Cirullo, the planning and deployment phases of the private CBRS LAN surpassed initial hopes.

"When we initially started this project, we assumed that the rollout of the system and integration with our existing network infrastructure would take weeks," he said. "We were wrong."

Cirullo and his team were surprised to learn Celona APs could be deployed in only a few hours, as opposed to days or weeks. The integration of the new private cellular network could also easily overlay within the university's existing IT infrastructure and policy framework. The 5G LAN infrastructure provided the university with ample bandwidth and "wirelike latency" in a deployment model that fit with its IP networking structure, he added.

Future plans for the 4G/5G LAN at Stanislaus State

With Stanislaus State's success with private CBRS LAN to address its outdoor wireless needs, Cirullo said the team plans to look at how its private mobile network can support new network transport technology. Examples he cited included deploying IoT sensors, video surveillance cameras, notification systems and public safety communications across the campus.

"These are the types of wireless use cases that wouldn't be possible using Wi-Fi alone and will greatly enhance our educational capabilities and physical safety to our 10,000 faculty and staff we support," he said.

Private cellular poised for growth within the enterprise

Stanislaus State's use of private CBRS networks as a wireless backhaul and extension for Wi-Fi service is an early example of just how beneficial private 5G LAN technologies can be. As the number of smartphones, tablets, IoT/industrial IoT devices and other endpoints with native CBRS support quickly grows, the industry could witness the number of use cases expand for both indoor and outdoor wireless environments.

The ease of deployment, carrier-grade reliability, superior coverage and guaranteed bandwidth rates that cellular wireless provides are simply not possible with conventional best-effort wireless alternatives.

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