Skip to main content

Leverage Existing Infrastructure to Reduce the Cost of Deploying a Private Cellular Network

technology abstract showing connectivity

Wireless connectivity is increasingly crucial in modern manufacturing operations. It enables higher flexibility, delivers real-time communication, reduces costs, improves efficiency and productivity, and facilitates automation. Private Cellular Networks (PCNs) using 4G LTE or 5G New Radio (NR) are quickly becoming the mainstay of manufacturing connectivity. Expanding wired Ethernet connection can be unsustainable as manufacturing plants are often being reconfigured, and Wi-Fi is ubiquitous but has severe limitations in supporting industrial automation.  

Reducing the cost to deploy a new PCN starts with a thorough audit of existing or planned networks with reuse in mind. Compiling existing network designs that include equipment and material inventories will allow you to work with your trusted communications partner to identify the most cost-effective solution.  

Reusing network architecture offers several benefits, including:

  • Cost savings: Reusing existing architecture reduces the need to design and implement new infrastructure, resulting in cost savings.
  • Increased efficiency: Using established network designs can expedite deployment, since there is less needed to develop and test new configurations.
  • Proven performance: Since the architecture has been used before, its performance and reliability are easier to manage and troubleshoot.
  • Easier maintenance: Familiarity with the architecture makes maintenance tasks simpler and less error prone.

Shared infrastructure can reduce the total cost of ownership by an average of 40% over the cost to deploy separate standalone networks.  

Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) in manufacturing can enhance wireless connectivity and communication throughout industrial warehouses, storage facilities, and logistics and distribution centers. DAS amplifies indoor radio frequency (RF) and cellular signals inside manufacturing operations. It is a network of antennas that sends and receives cellular signals on a carrier’s licensed frequencies, thereby improving voice and data connectivity for end-users.  

A PCN is an excellent choice when a manufacturing facility requires high-data throughput, has massive numbers of devices to connect wirelessly, and needs enhanced security and reliability. PCNs provide more control over data transmission and enable dedicated and secure connectivity with edge computing platforms, keeping data local for analytics and low latency processing. They can also connect a larger number of devices than Wi-Fi and other commonly used forms of connectivity. PCNs can be customized to meet application-specific requirements, such as guaranteed data throughput for video used in finished goods inspection or low latency for real-time command and control of manufacturing processes.  

However, the adoption of a PCN can be accompanied by several challenges, including the cost to deploy and manage another network layer since Wi-Fi and existing DAS already wirelessly power enterprise applications inside manufacturing facilities. Consultants often speak with manufacturers that want to deploy a private 5G network for mission-critical communications, and they are looking for ways to leverage existing infrastructure to reduce the cost of gaining the new capability.  

With careful planning, a thorough evaluation of the existing infrastructure, and an informed design that optimizes resources, an enterprise wireless network can support both PCN operations and Mobile Network Operator (MNO) voice services using shared infrastructure. Shared infrastructure can reduce the total cost of ownership by an average of 40% over the cost to deploy separate standalone networks. 

Here are two examples of how this is done.

  1. Manufacturer saves $1.9M by repurposing network infrastructure. A leading automobile manufacturer wanted to use a PCN for mission-critical connectivity for robots, autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs), and IoT sensors. The manufacturing facility had an existing DAS that provided cellular coverage for a single MNO. The manufacturer asked CTS, the manufacturer’s communication infrastructure managed service provider, if they could leverage the existing infrastructure to reduce the PCN deployment cost. The service provider did this by designing an overlay network on the existing infrastructure, also allowing for a cost-effective PCN deployment. The PCN network included a redundant core for high reliability and new radio equipment at each existing DAS remote location, while it reused the existing fiber and coaxial infrastructure. Existing antennas and passive components that did not support the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band utilized in the PCN also had to be upgraded. Repurposing infrastructure enabled the manufacturer to save $1.9M (40%) over the cost to deploy a new standalone network.
  2. Reusing infrastructure helps manufacturer save $3.4M. In another situation, a leading farm equipment manufacturer wanted to deploy a PCN to support a digital transformation that incorporated IoT sensors, AGVs, video cameras, mobile devices, and laptops. The manufacturing floor was close to 2 million square feet, so the most economical network architecture for PCN would have been distributed radio access network (D-RAN) feeding DAS. DAS has the added benefit of leveraging passive infrastructure inside the assembly space, since active electrical infrastructure had to be minimized in the manufacturing facility due to safety and maintenance concerns. In addition to PCN for IoT, the manufacturer wanted to deploy a neutral host network to support voice services for each MNO. By adding public cellular radios to the proposed PCN DAS and reusing the cabling, antennas and passive infrastructure, the manufacturer was able to save $3.4M, a 40% savings, over the deployment of two standalone networks.

There are numerous ways network infrastructure can be repurposed to save money when deploying new network solutions. For instance, many manufacturers have existing Ethernet infrastructure that has been utilized for Wi-Fi. In some cases, this infrastructure can be reused to distribute signal to small cells for PCN or MNO coverage. Category 6 cabling has a greater likelihood of reuse than Category 5, but the choice will depend on the design and radio options selected. Often the limiting factor is whether the existing infrastructure can support the Power over Ethernet (PoE) ++ required for most small cell options.

With the right design and equipment selection, instead of installing standalone networks, enterprises can save up to 40% of the cost to deploy a new PCN by repurposing or reusing the network infrastructure.

Want to learn more? Join Manufacturers and CTS on April 10 for the Deploying Private 5G for Mission-Critical Comms: A Case Study webinar.  

CTS provides custom, carrier-grade in-building and campus connectivity solutions for enterprises and mobile network operators, solving and managing the most complex networking challenges. CTS only provides one solution: the one that’s right for your business.

Opinions expressed by contributing authors are their own. 


Dr. Juanyu Bu

Dr. Juanyu Bu

Executive Vice President - Engineering, Communication Technology Services (CTS)