Celona implements open RAN specs for 5G private networks

In-Q-Tel, a venture capital group that helps U.S. national security agencies, is investing in private networks provider Celona. (In-Q-Tel)

Private networks and open RAN are two of the hottest topics in wireless, and if they intersect Celona wants to be ready. The Silicon Valley startup, named for Barcelona where its founders conceived the company, is implementing the O-RAN Alliance’s specifications for private mobile networks.

Celona says its 5G O-RAN, edge, and core solutions can all be integrated with third-party vendor components. It also said that its O-RAN support offers different RAN split options within a single 5G radio hardware access point, using standard interfaces defined by 3GPP, the O-RAN Alliance and the Small Cell Forum.

Private networks, not open RAN solutions, are Celona’s primary business. Co-founder Rajeev Shah has openly questioned the value of open RAN interfaces in an enterprise context. “Trying to shoehorn this technology into the enterprise ecosystem adds unneeded complexity,” Shah wrote in a recent blog post. “Enterprise wireless architecture has historically never welcomed a “split radio” model. Instead, it has embraced integrated solutions overlaid across the existing corporate network infrastructure.”

Celona wants to provide the integrated solution that will make cellular as easy as Wi-Fi for IT managers. The company recently launched a service called edgeless enterprise, which converges network services, enterprise applications, cyber security tools, WAN optimization and RAN functions on cloud-native edge computing platforms that can be deployed on premise or in a remote location.

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By implementing O-RAN specifications, Celona stands to benefit from political tailwinds propelling open RAN technology. U.S. vendors are positioning open RAN as an economical alternative to gear made by Huawei and ZTE, companies blacklisted by the U.S. government because of security concerns.

In-Q-Tel investment

Celona’s newest investor and strategic partner is In-Q-Tel, a non-profit venture capital firm created more than 20 years ago to identify and deliver cutting edge technologies to the U.S. intelligence community.

“The experiment has been a wild success beyond anything we could have thought of, because in absolute terms, the country’s a lot safer,” said former CIA director and In-Q-Tel trustee George Tenet, in a company video. Tenet added that as of 2019, Google Ventures was the only venture capital firm making more investments than In-Q-Tel.

Celona appears to fit well with In-Q-Tel’s portfolio, which includes companies working on intelligent connectivity, IT platforms and trusted infrastructure.

“Celona’s software-defined wireless networking solution enables enterprises to set up and manage their own private 5G and LTE cellular networks for secure enterprise communications,” said Brinda Jadeja, senior partner, investments at In-Q-Tel. “Their solution is designed to make it easy to deploy secure wireless connectivity, making it well-suited for deployment in the varied operating environments of the U.S. intelligence and national security communities.”

In-Q-Tel has the potential to bring Celona’s private network solution to government entities that might lack experience with cellular network architectures. The non-profit has a successful history of connecting tech startups to the national security community. In-Q-Tel president Steve Bowsher said the organization works “at the intersection of these two worlds that don’t talk to each other and don’t really understand each other, and being trusted by both of them - that’s really the secret sauce of In-Q-Tel.”