St. Luke’s Health System of Boise, Idaho, has Wi-Fi throughout its facilities, but it does not want to rely on it for mission critical calls between doctors and nurses. The non-profit is evaluating CBRS “as an additional lane of clean spectrum for staff-operated smartphone connectivity,” according to its IT director Doug Lyon. This is exactly the type of opportunity HPE’s Aruba hopes to take advantage of by adding CBRS to its portfolio through a partnership with private wireless startup Celona.
“Our customers are demanding additional connectivity options and spectrum to support specific digital initiatives being deployed within their organizations,” said Jeff Lipton, VP of strategy and corporate development at Aruba. “Our partnership with Celona is designed to directly address these demands.”
Celona, which just completed a $30 million Series B round of financing that included industry partners Qualcomm Ventures and NTTVC, is poised to take advantage of the newly available CBRS spectrum, which enterprises can use for their own cellular networks. Celona describes itself as a turnkey private wireless solution and says it is ready to go toe-to-toe with Nokia and Ericsson in the marketplace. Having HPE as a partner should help with this.
Like its larger competitors, Celona offers all components of a private wireless network: LTE access points optimized for enterprise, an LTE/5G core that can be installed on premise or in the cloud, SIM cards, an AI-driven orchestrator/controller, and CBRS spectrum access coordination through Federated Wireless or Google. All the enterprise needs to bring is the CBRS spectrum, and in some locations that will be freely available without a license.
Aruba and Celona plan to sell the entire service on a per-access-point basis. For example, a customer can pay $9,500 per indoor AP for a three-year license that includes the entire Celona solution.
Celona's solution is not Aruba’s only product aimed at helping its enterprise customers improve cellular connectivity. It already offers Aruba Air Pass, which uses prenegotiated agreements with MNOs that support the Wi-Fi Passpoint standard to access cellular SIM credentials for automated Wi-Fi roaming. Chuck Lukaszewski, Aruba’s VP of wireless strategy and standards, said Air Pass is a more affordable choice for most enterprises, while private wireless will give enterprise network architects more flexibility.
For Aruba parent HPE, offering a cellular network directly to enterprise customers is new territory. HPE is a longtime telco core network vendor and will now be competing with its carrier customers in the enterprise private wireless sector. But HPE realizes that not every private wireless opportunity will be attractive to the major carriers.
Lukaszewski said carriers “ultimately need to improve indoor cellular experience without diluting their precious 5G capex budgets … to the extent that Aruba and Celona can drive direct investment in CBRS neutral host solutions, this is a win for MNOs.” He added that the Aruba/Celona marketing effort will help drive customer interest in private wireless, and said some of those customers may end up deciding to work with mobile network operators or managed service providers.
For most enterprises that want to investigate CBRS, it seems highly likely that they will need a complete solution like Celona’s, or a trusted integrator who can assemble a solution. Other vendors are trying to offer complete private wireless solutions, including Motorola Solutions and Casa Systems.
Celona’s game plan
Celona is trying to differentiate itself with the sophistication of its software. It has a patent pending on technology that automatically maps, enforces and tracks essential service levels with no human intervention. Celona calls this MicroSlicing.
Another potential advantage for Celona is the pedigree and connections of its founders, Rajeev Shah and Mehmet Yavuz. Shah, Celona’s CEO, held leadership roles at Aruba and at Federated Wireless. Yavuz, Celona’s CTO, was an executive at Ruckus Wireless (now part of CommScope) and at Qualcomm. Both Yavuz and Shah have been thinking about bringing cellular to the enterprise for years.
“CBRS is a game changer, but it is only one piece of the puzzle,” said Yavuz. “Enterprises need a packaged solution to take full advantage of cellular wireless within the context of their existing IT framework. Our unique approach provides organizations a clear path to easily adopt LTE wireless today, and 5G in the future, while maintaining complete control over the network and the data running over it.”
Aruba is not the only go-to-market partner Celona plans to work with. The company said at least six value-added resellers are signed up to offer its product, and it plans to offer a certification program for VARs and systems integrators sometime during 2021. In addition, Celona is marketing its solution to managed service providers, and says it will probably be the least expensive way for some of these companies to offer private wireless.