Citizens Broadband Radio System (CBRS) Ecosystem Gets Ready to Roll

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2Q 2018 | IN-5105

CBRS gets serious with initiatives from Alphabet, CommScope, Corning, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Nokia, Qualcomm, Verizon, and many more as the ecosystem awaits final FCC decision on PAL licenses and auction rules.

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Poised for Imminent FCC Decisions


The arrival CBRS, the first shared spectrum technology, in the small cell form factor, will lower the cost for achieving good indoor coverage and capacity and challenge conventional distributed antenna systems (DAS) technologies with a deployment cost equivalent to Wi-Fi, bringing affordable in-building wireless within the reach of many. In addition, CBRS will usher in new business models such as quad play for cable operators, and private LTE for enterprises, industrial and manufacturing verticals as well as offering economical alternatives for wireless internet service providers, neutral hosts, mobile network operator capacity offload and network densification.

Signaling how eager the CBRS ecosystem is to move toward commercial deployments in shared spectrum, Verizon recently announced that it is partnering with Alphabet/Google, Nokia, and Corning/SpiderCloud Wireless, in addition to its previously announced partnerships with Ericsson, Qualcomm, and Federated Wireless. Verizon plans to offer a private LTE network service using CBRS to its clients who need greater control over their LTE solutions, including private on-site servers and access control using CBRS. Verizon plans to verify the Spectrum Access System (SAS) algorithms from Alphabet and Federated Wireless, testing throughput and interoperability between CBRS and licensed spectrum, as well as mobility and performance of CBRS.

ABI Research outlined the FCCs current Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) in an ABI Executive Foresight, “FCC Moves to Overhaul CBRS Spectrum Rules,” in November last year and also provides more in-depth details in our Network Evolution in Unlicensed and Shared Spectrum(AN-2755) report. ABI Research believes that the choice facing the FCC and the industry boils down to finding a useful compromise between stranded assets if the currently proposed 3-year license term is adopted and stranded spectrum if large area Priority Access Licenses (PALs) are adopted.

Disruptive for In-Building Wireless with New Business Models Appearing


ABI Research believes that CBRS can transform the in-building wireless market by offering a low-cost DAS alternative. The CBRS low-power Citizens Broadband Access Device (CBSD) Class A radios are best suited to the small cell form factor for indoor or venue deployments. With deployment costs equivalent to Wi-Fi, in-building wireless penetration in the largely untapped mid-sized enterprise verticals will increase dramatically with CBRS because these venues, until now, could not justify an expensive DAS.

Furthermore, ABI Research believes that CBRS will make it possible for any property owner or enterprise to create their own private LTE network. Private LTE networks will find many applications in numerous verticals, such as industrial, mining, ports, transportation, and enterprises. Private LTE networks, unlike public LTE networks, are managed locally and the network is tailored and optimized for the local services and applications for which it is used. Sensitive or proprietary data stay local, as may be the case in manufacturing or enterprise applications.

In addition to enabling densification for mobile network operators (MNOs), multiple system operators (MSOs) can leverage CBRS to expand their services to quad-play by offering supplementary mobile services as mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs). Using their existing cable infrastructure, MSOs can offer 4G cellular, in addition to cable TV, telephone, and broadband Internet. MSOs can also offer to offload MNO traffic, transiting a host network in return for reduced fees, or even negotiate a “swap” agreement with the MNO offering roaming onto CBRS in return for reduced fees.

The FCC Decision Will Trigger Commercial Operations Nationwide    


The current 3-year license term with no expectation of renewal will limit the uptake of PALs and ABI Research believes the FCC should relax this term to 10 years. However, we believe the proposed large-area Partial Economic Area (PEA) license will hinder innovation in this band and exclude smaller operators who may not have the capital to purchase a costly 10-year PEA-based license, disrupting the business models of some vendors who have already entered the U.S. market under the assumption that the current CBRS license plan will be used in the future. ABI Research believes that a workable compromise exists by defining PAL areas as smaller than PEAs and greater than census tracts, such as counties.

The FCC is expected to decide on the PAL definition and auction rules imminently. Also, the FCC plans to issue final certification of the SASs by the middle of 2018. The first commercial operations will be from the wireless Internet service provider (WISP) community almost immediately under GAA rules after SAS certification, while MNO and MSO rollout for mobile applications will be gated by handset availability, which will start in 2H 2018, with PAL auctions occurring in early 2019.

As we look forward to these FCC decisions, ABI Research has noted that, in addition to the Verizon trial, CBRS trials from T-Mobile, Charter Communications, and Comcast are occurring. Also, CBRS may be used as a fixed wireless application by the WISPs, and because this does not require handset support, multiple WISPs have already started trials. These include in California, GigaBeam Networks in Kentucky, Paladin Wireless in Georgia, and Vistabeam in Wyoming and Nebraska.

The CBRS promoter organization—the CBRS Alliance—has a membership list that is seemingly a “who’s who” of companies active in mobile communications, including all four Tier One U.S. MNOs; Charter Cox and Comcast from the MSO community; and American Tower, Crown Castle, and SBA Communications, which are among the largest tower companies in the country. As a result, ABI Research believes that the imminent FCC decision on the PAL auction and certification of SASs will trigger commercial operations in 2018 from many service providers.