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Rethinking What It Means To Be a Guest

Celona listens. I recall the first time I heard of Celona and had the opportunity to really dive into CBRS and Private LTE solutions way back in Mobility Field Day 4. In the almost 4 years since then, I’ve watched Celona grow from a fledgling and nascent corner case offering to being the industry standard-bearer for CBRS. When I think Private 5G, my mind immediately gravitates to Celona. When I was first introduced to CBRS however, the use cases were occasionally sensationalist, if not decidedly corner case. As the industry gained comfort with the overall concepts, more and better LAN integration was clearly the focal point of the Celona team – but one thing that I felt was always missing was their solution around transient non-native users – what we in the Wi-Fi world simply call “Guest”.

If you can go back and re-watch the Tech Field Day videos that first introduced the world to Celona, you will clearly see the cellular LTE (4G/5G) world is dramatically different than Wi-Fi. Yes, they both connect devices without wires, but that’s pretty well where the similarity stops. When integrating LTE solutions into an enterprise network, you will find yourself translating between the two worlds (slicing vs QoS, eNodeB vs AP, Packet cores vs controllers, etc) quite regularly and the trap that I fell into was thinking that there was going to be a ton of similarity between Wi-Fi use cases and CBRS use cases. In the years between, I’ve grown to understand that CBRS and Wi-Fi use cases are unlikely to overlap completely, and this presents an interesting complimentary approach to wireless networking leveraging the best of both worlds – except for Guests.

When we talk about Guest Wi-Fi, that evokes concepts such as captive portals, no authentication, no encryption (OWE in WPA3 aside), easy onboarding, connect – use the network, and leave. Translating that conversation into the CBRS world, like most things that require translation, doesn’t seem straightforward at first glance and may require you to take a step back from “the way it’s always been”. In the LTE world, everything is done based on unique credentials (this is the role the SIM plays in your phone). Just as WPA3 teaches us that the unauthenticated unencrypted Guest Wi-Fi of the past is no longer viable (OWE adds encryption, not authentication), CBRS and LTE solutions that are tightly coupled with a user identity (SIM) does not preclude us from changing our previous conceptions about a use case.

In the CBRS world, Guest is done very similarly to the way OpenRoaming works in the Wi-Fi world, where you have an identity, but the services you connect to are authenticated by the SIM provider, much the same way carrier roaming agreements work between telcos today. Leveraging SIM based credentials from another provider is conceptually straightforward: You bring your SIM enabled CBRS device into range of a network that advertises services for your telco, and behind the scenes, the Celona solution translates and tunnels that connectivity back to your device carrier. This means that, for cellular enabled devices that also support CBRS, you can leverage your Celona solution for a more promiscuous environment that provides services to the device, all the while taking advantage of the carrier specific features that you may otherwise have. This is a very graceful way to address Guest connectivity using discreet credentials – and this is the part that required some re-thinking for me. Note that, this capability in a Celona network is currently under select trials and will be available for their customers as part of their 5G LAN solution in 2023.

Taking advantage of inter-carrier services (similar, but wholly different from DAS), enables you to provide Guest services for those transient users – and allows you the granularity to onboard service providers into your network as your business needs can consume them. Celona took a Day 1 ask about transient user connectivity, went and thought about it, and have come back with a solution that addresses the use case at hand in a very graceful way. In short, Celona listens.

To learn more, check out Celona’s Tech Field Day Showcase by Gestalt IT.

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Samuel Clements

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