CBRS and the Shift in Spectrum Ownership


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I have been speaking about how the spectrum of 5G will shift into the hands of the small business once again. Well, now there are more people on board with this theory. It seems that CBRS is making it all happen and IWCE had CBRS as one of its focal points. (Even though I could not make it this year, they talked about it!)

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Quick update, the US CBRS is the 3.5GHz band, which runs from 3550 to 3700 MHz band. CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (in remembrance of the CB, Citizens Band). It is a licensed spectrum, but it is split up into 2 areas. There is Military radar, and Earth stations that use this spectrum that are grandfathered in and have priority access. That will not change. There will be Authorized Shared Access, (ASA). Currently in the US only, but Europe is looking to follow suit with Licensed Shared Access, (LSA).

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ASA includes:

  • Incumbent access including the federal government and satellite providers.
  • Priority access licenses (PAL) which are 7 10MHz licenses to be awarded to the highest bidders. PALs will be protected from the GAA users. PAL will include commercial users like carriers, rural operators, are a 3-year license with only 1 renewal term allowed at this time, and will be in the 3500 to 3650 portion of the spectrum. One licensee can hold only 4 PAL licenses.
  • General access user, (GAA) which is “Licensed by rule” which requires the rules to be followed. This will be dedicated in the 3650 to 3750 MHz portion of the band.
  • A PAL may gain additional GAA spectrum.
  • Companies that currently have this spectrum licenses will be able to keep their licenses; this was used for WiMAX in the past, now it will be LTE focused.
  • Licensing will be done by the Spectrum Allocation System, (SAS), which is a group that can charge for these services, currently being led by Google and Federated Wireless.
  • Hardware vendors include SpiderCloud, Ruckus, Nokia, Ericsson, Samsung, ip.access, and Acceleron.

I have been continuously explaining how CBRS will become a major player if the vendors pick up on it. Well, Google seems very interested. My friend Tom Ulrich put together the following report that covers how Google is excited to work with this spectrum and how it is the new beachfront property. How it will open new doors for all of us to deploy over the next 5 years or so.

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IWCE had entire workshops on it where all the big OEMs were there to promote the spectrum. They see great opportunity for growth here. One such workshop was “Building an Ecosystem for the CBRS Band that had all the big players there. Nokia, Ericsson, Ruckus, Google, WISPA, Airspan, Federated Wireless,  Comsearch, Telrad, and Cambium Networks were all presenting something about what they could do to contribute. They all see great potential in this. If you are a system integrator or do network implementation, then hopefully you see the potential as well.

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I was reading a report by ABI Research that mentions several articles pointing to Verizon Wireless plans to use CBRS to replace middle price DAS systems, the articles in RCR and Fierce Wireless using CBRS as the neutral host solution. Then it shows how Nokia added the CBRS to its Airscale product and the Ruckus OpenG product to follow suit. Not to be outdone but Acceleron also has a CBRS product. Just to be fair, Spidercloud was one of the first to have a CBRS product. It spears that Spidercloud is already reaching out the  DAS vendors and Verizon to bridge the gap for smaller DAS systems. We shall see more of SAS, (Small Cell Antenna Systems) popping up to replace the smaller DAS systems.

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Could CBRS solve the DAS middleware problem? Could CBRS products fill the void where no one wants to invest in those 100,000 to 500,000 square feet venues where it is too small for a carrier but too large for a small cell? Is this the savior we are looking for? I hope so! A clean way to hand off and a lightly licensed spectrum where we would not all be trampling on each other in the Wi-Fi space. I see a solution that could solve so many issues, financial and technical.

While this will mostly be an indoor solution, something where we could replace some DAS system with a common platform licensed spectrum that all the carriers and non-carriers could share to reach the dense population, it will be used for enterprise and outdoor coverage as a critical part of the 5G network slice. I am looking forward to seeing what small businesses can do with this spectrum to serve the people.

If you want a quick overview, here are 2 links that can help:

I focus mostly on the enterprise play here, but the reality is that we can use this spectrum for more than just indoor solutions. I see the spectrum to be used for new solutions like backhaul in the tough area or as a fixed wireless solution for placed where we need limited spectrum over short distances. I also see the carriers using this as a common small cell solution that can handoff from the licensed LTE spectrum we see today to be used to fill small holes without the very expensive LTE spectrum that they FCC auctioned off for a very high price. I see cost-effective small cells in public area where the more expensive solutions from, the bigger OEMs are not practical. Price matters, but the high cost of backhaul is one of the limitations that hold back deployment, along with permitting costs. All of this are restricting small cell deployment today causing the FCC to push legislation to streamline coverage. Everyone wants great coverage and high bandwidth, no one wants to see an ugly tower in their back yard.

I see CBRS filling the public venues with an alternative to smaller DAS systems by dropping in a CBRS small cell with multiple bands to provide a lightly licensed signal where the carriers would roam onto this device. Clean signal without the threat of another access point going up on the same band(s).

CBRS will allow small business and Enterprise to have their lightly licensed spectrum, something that the FCC has kept from small business for quite some time. I get it, they make billions on the auctions, but it has not helped small business broadband. They feel the ISM band was enough for them to build on. I feel differently. Now I see opportunity in CBRS, centimeter wave and millimeter wave spectrums. Let’s deploy and bring broadband and narrowband to the masses! Broadband for internet access and narrowband for IOT access. It’s exciting to see the industry have more opportunity again!

Tom’s Report:

Tom did put together some notes from IWCE. Here is Tom’s report from IWCE, Is CBRS ending “Beachfront Spectrum”?

I had the pleasure to attend IWCE this week and was blown away by Dr. Preston Marshall’s {Alphabet/ Google} presentation on CBRS.

If I had to describe his presentation into 3 words it would be:

  • Ecosystem
  • Incentive
  • Innovation

Is the Ecosystem of Spectrum Landscape changing?  Will CBRS end the need for Beachfront Spectrum?

It is first important to look closely at the “Current reality” of Wireless Spectrum: How does the current Spectrum landscape preclude innovation?

Licensed Spectrum is Expensive – Past Auctions cost the WSP’s Billions to own the right to this FCC Licensed Spectrum and only come available once every ~3-5 years.  They also really limit the number of participant and winners.  Do you have a Billion dollars to purchase spectrum for your “Garage idea of the Century?

Newly Licensed Spectrum roll outs are meticulously planned and take forever to plan/ execute.  They often force the WSP’s to commit to the next technology type before knowing how successfully adopted it will be.  Even after the Spectrum purchase, Look at how many Billions of Dollars were committed in development/ deployment in WiMAX for Intel, Google, & Sprint before changing to an LTE-based solution.  Look at how difficult turning off old technology types {Analog, iDEN, GSM, UMTS, & CDMA} have become.

Spectrum is Slow to deploy and can take 6-8+ years to clear spectrum, raise funding, and establish a product rollout.  Look at failed Spectrum rollouts like Lightsquared, Next-Wave, etc.  Some companies like Dish have even had the forward though of saving spectrum, waiting for the next technology shift, or WSP Spectrum shortage to capitalize on their dormant Wireless portfolio.

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In today’s unlicensed wireless ecosystem it encourages OEM’s to make cheap, lousy radios that do not perform very well with interference present.  802.11 Wireless AP’s are often a cheap commodity that needs to be upgraded or replaced every 3-5 years.   How much innovation can we drive with a $40 access point?  This often drives the race to the bottom on who can create the least cost AP.

How does CBRS set-up to change the Spectrum Landscape and Drive Innovation?

Dr. Marshall stated, “CBRS will make spectrum buying an economic decision.”  It incentivizes stakeholders to maximize their ability to deflect interference and operate with radios that can perform in a noisier shared spectrum environment.

Dr. Marshall detailed his 4 step plan to rolling out CBRS

  1. Regulatory – Helped get FCC approval, help develop standards within the Wireless Innovation Forum, and CBRS Alliance. Established FCC Part 96.
  2. Coexist – Creating an ecosystem environment for Multiple Technologies and Stakeholders
  3. Recruit – Recruit top talent and buy-in from Wireless industry
  4. Prove – Further innovate standards, product, Solutions, and Applications.

CBRS creates a Wireless Ecosystem that now will encourage innovation and allows for fast, less expensive rollouts.  Why not put a solution in the Marketplace and let the market decide how well it is adopted before committing to extensive field trials and Millions of dollars?

Dr. Marshall detailed that this Spectrum Landscape is sustainable to support additional shared spectrum bands, and may hold some of the keys on Business models, and landscape of 5G.

Special thanks to Tom for sending this back to us.

Now, my opinion. We have seen the players be OEMs and carriers and other integrators in this space. Who has been conspicuously absent has been the cable companies. Here is space where they can shine, grow, and spread beyond Wi-Fi without building an ironclad agreement with one carrier. They have the money and the deployment process to make this a phenomenal area of growth. I would like to think that SpiderCloud would be calling the cable companies with proposals and business cases. Just my opinion. It is time for the cable companies to make it happen in wireless deployment.

Be smart, be safe, and pay attention!

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7 comments

  1. Wade,

    Nice summary. It’s a transformational change that has tremendous market acceleration potential. Many of the steps we have today evaporate, but there are some that remain by necessity. Discuss over beers sometime soon…

    ~Art

    Liked by 1 person

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