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When private 4G LTE is better than Wi-Fi

Aug 20, 20194 mins

Wi-Fi remains the most prevalent wireless technology in enterprise networks, but private 4G LTE cellular technology, and soon 5G, can be the answer in specific use cases involving remote and mobile deployments and high-capacity needs including IoT.

lte cellular service cell tower mobile phone binary
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While cellular wireless is often thought of as a carrier service, IT organizations can benefit from deploying private 4G LTE technology to complement or even replace Wi-Fi and for specific use cases such as supporting IoT devices that generate large data sets and that are spread out over large areas.

What is private 4G LTE?

Private LTE is a local cellular network that includes cell sites and core network servers dedicated to supporting the connectivity of a specific organization’s requirements independent of the cellular networks of service providers.

It enables organizations to customize their networks for mission-critical applications, optimize the network for low latency and support specific SLA – all without interference from the often-congested public wireless spectrum. 

Private LTE is also suitable for some distributed-enterprise use cases, including stadiums, airports, amusement parks, ports, railroads, mines, oil/gas extraction, warehouses, factories, agriculture, elements of smart cities and public safety. Other applications for private LTE involve extremely remote areas with poor cellular coverage.

Why enterprises might need private 4G LTE and 5G

Private LTE also competes with public 4G and 5G cellular networks but can be the better choice when large amounts of data are transferred that stress the public network in a given area. The cost of high data-transfer volume can also be prohibitive in public LTE networks.

Private LTE can be deployed anywhere, including areas beyond the reach of public carriers, and can keep data on-site for security reasons. And  private LTE can be optimized to handle traffic types with specific requirements. For example, real-time IoT applications can be guaranteed extremely low latency for immediate response.

Private LTE vs. Wi-Fi

Private LTE is an important alternative option or even replacement for Wi-Fi, especially in situations where Wi-Fi has shortcomings, and can best be thought of as complementary to Wi-Fi. It is a good choice when Wi-Fi does not provide the connectivity required in certain use cases such as supporting mobile deployments. Wi-Fi can also be susceptible to spectrum noise and interference from steel walls.

It can be cost prohibitive when it’s called on to provide coverage for large geographic areas. That’s because of the large number of Wi-Fi access points needed and the fiber backhaul network that would be required.

Use-case examples

Taking these factors into consideration, organizations can mix and match Wi-Fi and private LTE to offer maximum connectivity for complex use cases.

Implementations for which private LTE is well suited include high-definition video surveillance; remote vehicle, robot and equipment control; mission-critical communications for security teams; mobile connectivity for public safety vehicles; and mobile kiosk connectivity.

Supporting large numbers of distributed or mobile IoT devices with high data-transfer requirements is a sweet spot for private LTE. 

Acquiring LTE spectrum

The spectrum needed for private LTE comes in three categories: public licensed, shared spectrum and unlicensed spectrum.

Organizations can license public spectrum from existing holders, typically commercial carriers. Licensed spectrum might be suitable, for example, in remote areas with no existing wireless coverage.

A second option is sharing spectrum with licensing approval. For example, in the U.S. the 3.5GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service could be used in private-LTE deployments with FCC approval.

Finally, organizations can deploy private LTE in unlicensed spectrum such as 5.4 Gh, which is currently used for Wi-Fi.

Note: Rules for these options vary country to country.

Is private LTE right for you?

Organizations weighing whether to invest in private LTE should assess their network requirements in terms of coverage area, number and types of devices, latency and total bandwidth.  They should consider whether data is stored locally or sent to the cloud.  What types of devices and applications require connectivity?  Are multiple physical networks required?

Doyle Research expects private LTE (or 5G) to grow in popularity for complex or mobile enterprise networking requirement, including augmentation for public cellular (stadiums), vehicle tracking, digital signage, retail kiosks, and high-definition video cameras.


In the U.S., several industry groups are promoting private LTE standards, including the CBRS Alliance, the Wireless Innovation Forum and the MulteFire Alliance are promoting private LTE standards.  Industry support includes Cradlepoint, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, JMA Wireless, Nokia, Ruckus and leading wireless carriers.

lee doyle

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, SD-WAN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group vice president for network, telecom, and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College.

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