CBRS 101: Initial Commercial Deployment Plans Hit the FCC

If you haven’t heard of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service spectrum, just wait. Monday was the deadline for Spectrum Access System [SAS] administrators to submit their initial commercial deployment plans to the FCC. This is pretty big stuff as it’s a unique approach to spectrum management, with commercial use sharing bandwidth with the military. It’s seen as a highly effective way to deliver wireless coverage to indoor venues, airports, Smart Cities, transportation grids and industrial manufacturing. And this isn’t way off in the future, with commercial deployment expected to begin before the end of the year.

There are three classes of users for the 150 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum—incumbent/military users, priority access users (more akin to traditional licensed spectrum users where you buy at auction right to access) and general authorized users (analogous to unlicensed users in that anyone is free to use the tier if it’s not being used by an incumbent or priority access holder). SAS administrators, such as Federated Wireless, Google and CommScope, coordinate it all. The FCC is expected to make redacted info from Monday’s deployment proposals available in the coming days. “It should provide an overall picture of the approximate numbers of CBRS radios that people plan to deploy during this initial commercial deployment phases as well as where in the country that will be,” CBRS Alliance pres Dave Wright told Cablefax. “I think it will speak to the breadth and diversity of use cases.”

The FCC is expected to approve proposals by the end of October. To help illustrate how hot the space is, CBRS Alliance just celebrated its second birthday. When it was founded it 2016, it had six members. Today, it has more than 100, including all the leading cable and mobile operators. Among those administrators filing commercial deployment plans is Federated Wireless, which has 15 leading companies—including Charter, Arris and American Tower—participating in its proposal. Federated’s plan has nationwide scale with nearly 16K deployment sites by its customers in 47 states and DC, with a broad set of use cases, including 5G, advanced LTE, wireless carrier and cable solutions, fixed and mobile networks, enterprise Private-LTE, and managed network services. This CBRS work was tested last month at an interoperability event at CableLabs that brought together five SAS administrators with 11 device vendors. Of the mandatory tests performed, there was a 98% or better test completion rate with no recorded failures and more than 50 successful interactions. “The CBRS framework enables a diverse range of interests to come together to try and operationalize the band.

Cable has interest in mobile and fixed wireless applications,” Wright explained. “Mobile operators see this as a good way to densify and add some capacity to existing licensed bands. There’s also a whole range of enterprise and industrial applications.” The latter is why companies like Union Pacific and FedEx have been active in the FCC proceeding as well as the NFL and PGA. “Leveraging CBRS shared spectrum, networks will cost a fraction of both the capital expense and operating costs of other next-generation wireless networks in development,” Arris CEO Bruce McClelland penned in a blog post Monday.

Arris’ Ruckus Networks announced Monday that it’s the first technology provider to achieve FCC CBRS certification. It will begin trialing CBRS 3.5 Ghz LTE access points in Champaign-Urbana, IL, with Pavlov Media, a private provider of broadband services for multi-family real estate owners. More than 20 proof-of-concept trials using Ruckus equipment have been successfully completed, with more than 30 in the pipeline. As CBRS moves full steam ahead, Federated Wireless has launched a new CPI training program that addresses the FCC mandate that all outdoor CBRS radios (CBSDs) be installed by a certified professional installer.

CBRS is heavily featured in next month’s SCTE-ISBE Cable-Tec Expo program, including sessions on the opportunities and challenges for sharing spectrum. On Wednesday, the CBRS Alliance will host a four-hour session during Mobile World Congress Americas that will explore “OnGo,” the brand being used to indicate a device would use the wireless spec. Speakers include Charter wireless tech svp Craig Cowden.

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