CBRS: Understanding the operator and enterprise opportunities

 

New mid-band spectrum allows operators to add capacities, enterprise to invest in private networks

A consummate theme of telecom discussions is the desperate need for additional spectrum dedicated to mobile services; in the context of 5G, that refrain tends to focus on mid-band spectrum, which strikes a valuable balance between coverage and capacity. Good news for the U.S. market–a novel new approach to spectrum sharing is poised to put a big chunk of prime 3.5 GHz spectrum into play later this year. 

The regulatory and technical road to open up the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service band has been long and, at times, difficult to navigate. But the industry has collaborated to develop and test environmental sensing capabilities and spectrum access systems and federal officials have recently set the rules for Auction 105 where priority access licenses for CBRS spectrum will be up for grabs. 

Access to the 3.5 GHz band will follow a three-tiered scheme: at the top, incumbent federal users, largely the Department of Defense, will maintain operations; priority access licenses will go to the highest bidder and be allocated in 10 megahertz, unpaired channels with up to seven PALs per county-based license area; and, at the bottom on the pyramid, general authorized access users can make use of the spectral resources albeit with a lower level of priority and no interference protection. 

“In the U.S. market, we’re very much in need of more mid-band spectrum.,” Ericsson’s Roger Galuban, senior product manager, told RCR Wireless News. “It’s really considered a sweet spot, so to speak, where you can drive additional capacity. I believe with the PAL auctions coming up, there will be significant interest both from mobile operators as well as the MSOs that are launching and have launched mobile services. Our expectation is to see a very active PAL auction this summer and certainly from a strategy and portfolio perspective, we’ve been ramping up.”   

There are a number of well-articulated strategies for putting CBRS to work. Chief among them for operators is using advanced carrier aggregation capabilities at the RAN and at the device to use 3.5 GHz to bolster existing network capacity and provide an improved network experience. 

Another opportunity is for cable companies looking to ramp up the reach of mobile services and reduce reliance on MVNO arrangements with Tier 1 operators. New avenues for delivering fixed wireless access are opened up with CBRS and can serve as a launch pad for new entrants like WISPs. There’s also an opportunity for operators to simultaneously solve indoor coverage issues in large public venues while also selling private network-type services to the building owner or occupants. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg; initially 3.5 GHz was referred to as the “innovation band” and expect significant innovation as CBRS becomes a commercial reality. 

“We have been actively working with our operator customers to aid them in setting up their new go-to-market strategies,” Galuban explained. We help them connect with our service and installation partners which enables them to attack this space with their enterprise private network customers that they are going after.” 

While CBRS was originally envisioned as an LTE technology, the cross-industry CBRS Alliance, working with the 3GPP and WinnForum, recently completed specifications that defines operation of some CBRS configurations for 5G. This latest CBRS specification, Release 3, aligns with 3GPP’s Release 15; the two groups will continue to coordinate for CBRS Release 4 and 3GPP Releases 16 and 17. 

And that advancement of CBRS from LTE to 5G is something Galuban said Ericsson has been proactively discussing with customers. He said Ericsson outdoor small cell CBRS products are 5G NR-ready. “My view is that anyone who would be deploying a new CBRS network wants assurances that these networks will support NR going forward and the good news is that the Ericsson CBRS products support the entire CBRS band and will be NR-ready when the need is required.”

For more information on CBRS, check out the following resources: 

  • How CBRS spectrum changes the game for wireless industry innovation in the US
  • CBRS: How shared spectrum changes the game
  • CBRS Alliance opens gates for first US mid-band 5G deployments

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