Celona Enhances Private 5G for Industry

5 Gconnect1

By: Mary Jander

Private wireless LTE/5G supplier Celona says its gear will work with specialized protocols used in industrial environments.

The announcement highlights the growing opportunity Celona and other private wireless suppliers see in the manufacturing market. And it solves a problem that’s surfaced in industrial setups that use Ethernet-based protocols – namely, the need for real-time performance to coordinate tasks on the factory floor.

Celona has taken particular aim at PROFINET, a widely used protocol that links factory devices, including robots, sensors, controllers, and machine tools. PROFINET is an Ethernet-based, standardized approach that’s been tailored to improve on the limitations of “office Ethernet.” As PI North America, a trade association for PROFINET users describes it on their website:

“Office Ethernet cannot deliver the real time performance needed for industrial IO.
Office Ethernet cannot meet the high precision determinism needed for advanced motion control.
Office Ethernet is unable to withstand the physical conditions found in manufacturing environments (dusty, hot, humid, corrosive, EMI, etc).”

Many solutions are available to link factory-floor devices over PROFINET, including via wireless WiFi and Bluetooth protocols. But Celona says these approaches haven’t solved the performance issues that wireless PROFINET has suffered from, including “variable latency, jitter and packet loss and retransmissions caused by factors such as interference, network congestion, and changing environmental conditions.”

A Fresh Take for Manufacturers

Celona provides a complete private LTE/5G network based on its own SIM cards, access points, edge device, mobile core, and orchestrator software. It now says it’s created a technique that uses this gear to allow factory automation devices to interoperate at top speed in private LTE/5G networks. The technique involves encapsulating Layer 2 Ethernet frames in Layer 3 packets, as illustrated below:

Source: Celona

Celona describes its approach thus:

“Celona 5G LANs uniquely employ Layer 2 GRE (general routing encapsulation) or VXLAN (virtual extensible LAN) tunneling techniques to carry PROFINET traffic over the 5G LAN. These tunnels are dynamically established from the Celona Edge and terminated on customer premise equipment (CPE), based on specific QoS policies and device groups defined within the Celona Orchestrator platform. PROFINET traffic is effectively transmitted in Layer 2 Ethernet frames and encapsulated within Layer 3 packets, which allows them to traverse network boundaries.”

Up to now, Celona says, IT and OT staff have been forced to manually create their own tunnels to achieve adequate network performance.

Another Proprietary Solution?

There are currently many products available that address the challenges of bringing Ethernet to the factory floor, and according to PI North America, those include ones that adapt WiFi and Bluetooth in wireless LANs. Still, many solutions remain customized or proprietary, and Celona’s adds to that roster.

But the prospect of using high-speed, dedicated cellular networks to implement factory-floor networking has its attractions. According to Celona, some of its largest customers are using ruggedized Celona products in LTE-based factory networks today. That’s significant since Celona’s ecosystem of partners and resellers includes NTT and Verizon. Celona also has alliances with Ericsson's Cradlepoint and with the Aruba subsidiary of HPE. Large customers of any of these companies could be influential in the industry.

What’s more, Celona last year announced a partnership with NTT and Schneider Electric for developing solutions specifically for industrial environments, and it’s possible that was a testbed for the solution unveiled today.

It’s worth mentioning that Celona, like competitor Betacom (which says it is planning its own PROFINET solution), uses the semi-licensed spectrum of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) in the U.S., along with similar bands in Europe. By the end of the year, Celona says it will support band n79, which is used in parts of Asia.

Private 5G Market Growing

Celona’s solution is aimed at one of the biggest areas of opportunity in the still-nascent 5G enterprise space. According to Futuriom’s research, smart manufacturing tops the list of use cases service providers are hoping to address.

Futuriom Take: Celona is riding a wave of interest in private wireless networks, and its pioneering technology so far has managed to nab considerable ecosystem and customer support. Today’s announcement appears to be the result of successful projects within the industrial space.