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Enterprise WAN networks largely consist of wired connections. However, it is also wise to think about Wireless WAN, argues Evert Suur of Cradlepoint. It might be more useful than you might think.

Evert Suur is Area Director Northern Europe at Cradlepoint. This company may not be well known in our region, but it is the US market leader in Wireless WAN. The company has been around since 2006. It may have entered the European market relatively recently, but it has a lot of pedigree and a good reputation. Cradlepoint has about 28,500 customers worldwide and more than 2 million active subscriptions to their cloud-delivered 4G and 5G wireless network edge solutions, powered by the NetCloud Service.

Cradlepoint is also a company that has focused solely on Wireless WAN ever since 2006. You can also deduce this from the name of the company. In 2006 you didn’t have smartphones with which you could set up a hotspot. You had to physically connect a mobile phone to something to be able to share the internet connection. That was called a cradle at the time, hence the name Cradlepoint.

15 years of expertise in Wireless WAN

Cradlepoint’s roots in Wireless WAN are important, Suur stresses. It gives them an edge over other vendors who offer Wireless WAN, but for whom it isn’t their core business. As a result, most network gear is installed in racks or rooms that aren’t particularly suited for Wireless WAN use. Cradlepoint, however, found a way to get remote LTE modems to the front of the store or site. This obviously enhances cellular reception.

In terms of cellular connectivity, Cradlepoint implements their own software drivers and tuned antennas. These turn consumer-centric modems into enterprise-class wireless WAN solutions with high-quality cellular connections, Cradlepoint claims. In terms of management, Cradlepoint NetCloud Manager can also integrate much better with operators’ offerings. It can manage cellular signals in a very granular way, for example, which optimizes the connection. This is one of the results of 15 years of knowledge and expertise. Vendors that do a bit of Wireless WAN on the side simply cannot deliver this, says Suur.

What exactly does Cradlepoint do?

Now that we have a clear picture of the origins and approach of Cradlepoint in the market, we can discuss what exactly Cradlepoint does when it comes to Wireless WAN. In summary, the company aims to enable organizations to unlock the functionality of LTE and 5G cellular networks for their remote sites, mobile and vehicles. In addition, Cradlepoint also support IoT connectivity use cases.

While Gartner put the company in the SD-WAN box, that’s not quite where Cradlepoint belongs, as they offer SD-WAN for Wireless WAN connections. That is why they are regarded as niche players. At the very top right of the quadrant of the niche players, Suur immediately adds. That means they do very well in their niche. Cradlepoint actually wants to partner with SD-WAN providers. In practice this almost always happens.

Connected everywhere

When we ask Suur to describe in one sentence what Cradlepoint does do, or what it prides itself on, he gives the following answer: “We deliver a cloud-managed subscription Wireless WAN platform for branch, mobile and IoT use cases with capabilities for public and private LTE and 5G networks.” That’s quite a broad focus. It indicates that Cradlepoint can handle a broad variety of use cases. You can use the equipment in various environments to securely extend the corporate network, where everything can be centrally managed.

Despite the broad focus, organizations don’t need to have in-house experts to work with Cradlepoint routers and adapters. That’s where NetCloud Manager comes in. Cradlepoint routers can be group configured in advance and sent to remote sites all set-up and ready to go. Just plug in the power cord, the cloud-based management does all the rest and brings the unit online with its configuration. This is especially useful for implementations around IoT.

Suur mentions an excellent example of an IoT implementation during our discussion. One of their customers has around 42,000 lockers worldwide, where people can pick up their orders. The combination of Cradlepoint’s equipment and NetCloud management means nobody has to be on-site to monitor and manage the deployment. One employee can do that remotely. In principle, the customer can create a new location wherever he wants. The only requirement is a working mobile broadband connection at the location.

Failover over Wireless WAN

Now that the focus of Cradlepoint is clear, it’s time to look at some more use cases. How do you use the Wireless WAN Cradlepoint offers in practice? The most obvious and also the most common reason to deploy Wireless WAN is for failover to wired links. If you really can’t have any downtime as an organization, then you must have an alternative if wired WAN connections go down.

You can of course create a second wired WAN connection for that. But that is costly, takes time to deploy and often shares the same route into a building. That is, it doesn’t provide redundancy, Suur points out. A Wireless WAN solution is a lot faster to deploy, more efficient, and provides real link redundancy via a diverse path

Separation of networks using Wireless WAN

Another application that Suur mentions revolves around separating networks. He mentions a shop-in-shop as an example of a situation in which that would be advisable. As a store, you may prefer not to have a third-party kiosk or shop on your own corporate network. Such deployments benefit from a physically separate network offered by installing a Wireless WAN router.

Additionally, Wireless WAN can be used for out-of-band management (OOBM) of network devices in remote locations. The remote management capabilities of OOBM wireless solutions reduce operational costs by allowing a smaller IT team to manage a much larger set of remote devices and locations easily. Staff can quickly connect to affected systems, troubleshoot issues anywhere, and often bring the system back online more quickly. Cloud-based NetCloud Manager OOBM tools allow them to provision, monitor, analyze and control equipment over IP and ethernet connections or through the native USB or serial console port.

Another common use case for Wireless WAN is to set up a connection for temporary locations and a a fleet of company vehicles. Suur mentions the construction industry as an example here. Another one is the test and vaccination locations regarding Covid-19. In such cases, you cannot wait for a network connection to be established. You want and have to get started right away. Cradlepoint’s NetCloud and routers can deliver that, says Suur. Everything works out-of-the-box.

Simplify complexity

It should be clear by now that Wireless WAN solutions have several important use-cases. Now, the question is which companies should consider Cradlepoint’s products an solutions. Sure, Cradlepoint can help organizations looking for a single mobile or failover connection. Suur repeatedly mentions during our conversation that the routers Cradlepoint makes are of a very high quality. He also realizes, however, that the hardware alone doesn’t always make the deciding difference. The Cradlepoint difference becomes apparent, though, when organizations want to scale up and open multiple locations, and use Wireless WAN for multiple uses at the same time. That’s when Cradlepoint’s other offerings can shine. “The more complex the environment and the less uniform it is, the more suitable it is for Cradlepoint,” Suur summarizes.

Cradlepoint’s NetCloud Manager (NCM) plays a crucial role in dealing with complex environments. With NCM you can manage everything from a single screen, also in the case of the customer with 42,000 lockers we mentioned above. If you integrate it with an SD-WAN provider, you can also remotely troubleshoot your SD-WAN appliance, if there are problems with the wired WAN connection for example. This is an extremely interesting use case, particulary for MSPs.

More innovation to come

Cradlepoint is by no means done innovating, Suur says at the end of our conversation. A recent addition to some cellular routers in Cradlepoint’s portfolio is the possibility to run applications in containers on them. That results in more compute at the edge. This specific solution targets on-premises edge compute deployments where you might want to analyse data from an IoT device before sending it to a central location. This saves bandwidth, and you immediately supply the right data to wherever that data goes.

All in all, even in a region like Europe, where fibre networks are omnipresent, Cradlepoint has an interesting proposition. It also has 15 years of experience when it comes to adding value to complex WAN environments. We would say the future in Europe looks bright for Cradlepoint, especially now that it is part of the Ericsson Group, and Ericsson increasingly focusses on the enterprise market. As always, we will keep tabs on this company too, and will report on it on a regular basis.