October 15, 2019
Mobile network operators are well aware of the enterprise use cases that 5G networks can enable, but how ready are enterprise customers to invest? That is one of the biggest questions surrounding 5G, and Silicon Valley's Celona may have some of the answers. The startup just raised $10 million to develop an end-to-end 5G solution architecture.
Investors Norwest Venture Partners, Cervin Ventures and Lightspeed Venture Partners are betting that Celona can enable new mission-critical business applications, but in order to do that, Celona's software has to find its way into enterprise networks. Often it's not the corporate customer or the mobile network operator that makes the initial decision to bring cellular to enterprise IT networks.
"In many cases there are also partners involved, such as managed service providers or systems integrators or even some companies bringing certain applications," explains Celona CTO and co-founder Mehmet Yavuz. He uses the example of an application provider that wants to use computer vision to make warehouses more efficient. The company is developing an app that reads container numbers and lets customers identify contents as trucks roll into multiple locations in a warehouse, an ideal use case for 5G.
"My passion has always been bringing cellular technologies to the enterprise domain," says Yavuz, a former Qualcomm VP of engineering and CTO of Ruckus Networks. When CommScope acquired Ruckus parent Arris in April 2019, Yavuz left to help found Celona. He says his many conversations with enterprise end users of wireless technology have convinced him that a growing number of corporate networks are ready for cellular.
"What doesn't click with them is the traditional model," Yavuz says. "This wide area deployment model is a non-starter for many of them, because they want a local network. They want full control and visibility of that network. They want the data to stay on their premises, and all of those are the things they are not getting today." He adds that many companies are trying to use WiFi networks and finding them inadequate for mission critical applications.
The Celona team believes private LTE and 5G networks are the answer for many companies, but some research shows that most corporate IT managers do not feel ready to run a cellular network. According to Chris Nicoll, principal analyst at ACG Research, most firms will be looking for help when it comes to 5G.
"Very, very few of them want to run a private network themselves, or a 5G network themselves," Nicoll says.
That's why companies like Celona are working throughout the ecosystem to find ways to help companies leverage 5G. They know end users are likely to invest in 5G as a means to an end goal, so they need to work with companies that are bringing those end goal applications to the enterprise.
The Celona product
Yavuz describes his company's product as primarily a software solution that leverages LTE small cell access points made by Celona's manufacturing partners like Sercomm. Yavuz says Celona has indoor and outdoor access points for various use cases, but the company's differentiator is its software.
"The key component for us is the software capabilities that we bring to this solution," Yavuz says. Celona's eNodeB software uses self-organizing network (SON) technology to optimize spectrum use.
Celona is focusing on the CBRS spectrum bands, which the company believes will be easiest for enterprise users to acquire. Its Spectrum Access System (SAS) partners are Federated Wireless and Google.
The solution also includes a programmable service edge, with evolved packet core network functionality, and an AI-enabled service orchestrator that Yavuz calls "the brains of the solution." He says the orchestrator handles network operation and subscriber management, enabling enterprises to automate functions that mobile network operators need hundreds of engineers to perform. The goal is to make integration as easy as possible for IT managers.
Celona's software is still in engineering beta trials, and the company hopes to have a dozen such trials in place by the end of the year. Next year Celona wants to start converting those trials to paying customers.
"We basically bring the software solution as a fully consumable solution platform for the enterprise," says Yavuz. "A big part of what we provide is easy integration of this fairly sophisticated solution to the IT infrastructure."
The company is hoping this simplicity will convince service providers to make Celona part of their enterprise offering. In the months ahead, Celona's relationships will be as important as its technology in bringing 5G to enterprise use cases.
— Martha DeGrasse, special to Light Reading. Follow her @mardegrasse
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