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It's Time to Get Excited About 3.5GHz CBRS

We're days away from initial commercial deployments in the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band, often called 'Goldilocks spectrum' because of its propagation characteristics. It certainly appears to be just right, given the diversity of initial commercial applications.

Mike Dano

September 12, 2019

5 Min Read
It's Time to Get Excited About 3.5GHz CBRS

After almost a decade of work and roughly a year of delays, we're just days away from seeing real, live commercial operations in the 3.5GHz CBRS band.

That's noteworthy considering Apple's newest iPhones, announced this week, just happen to represent the first time the vendor is putting the band into its devices. Newer Samsung and Google Pixel phones already support 3.5GHz.

It's also noteworthy considering both AT&T and Verizon are on the cusp of launching commercial services in 3.5GHz. AT&T is working with CommScope and Samsung to offer fixed wireless services in CBRS sometime this year, while Verizon has been deploying phones and network equipment for almost a year that will use the band to improve the speeds and performance of transmissions on its LTE network.

And it's also noteworthy considering the FCC recently said it would hold 3.5GHz spectrum auctions starting in June of 2020, paving the way for 70MHz of licensed operations to run next to the half of the band that's dedicated to unlicensed operations.

But all this isn't why it's time to get excited about the 3.5GHz CBRS band.

3.5GHz is exciting because, here in the very first days of commercial operations in the band, there are already an incredibly diverse set of applications poised to launch. Among the "initial commercial deployments" (ICDs) that are teed up to go live are IoT services, fixed wireless applications, smart city implementations, private LTE networks, edge computing tests and all kinds of mobile offerings.

Mid-band sweet spot
The 3.5GHz band has been hailed as "Goldilocks spectrum" because it offers just the right balance between coverage and capacity. Due to the propagation characteristics of transmissions in mid-band spectrum like the CBRS band, signals can travel for miles and penetrate buildings while also carrying a significant amount of data. The same cannot be said for transmissions in low-band spectrum (which can cover large geographic areas but can't transmit much data) or high-band spectrum (which can't cover large geographic areas but can transmit huge amounts of data).

It's also noteworthy that we haven't even gotten to 5G yet. The CBRS Alliance is working on specifications for 5G in 3.5GHz, and hopes to release them next year, but all of the current interest in the 3.5GHz band involves LTE and other transmission technologies.

The below list of CBRS ICDs comprise examples supplied to Light Reading from both CommScope and Federated Wireless, two of the nation's leading providers of Spectrum Access System (SAS) services for the band. The CBRS band sports a unique sharing model that allows commercial users to share 3.5GHz with the US Navy, an incumbent user of the band. The SAS is part of the system that makes sure commercial users won't interfere with US Navy operations in coastal areas. The FCC and NTIA have been testing SASs and other elements of the sharing system in the band since last year, and the NTIA recently signed off on commercial operations in the band.

The FCC is widely expected to provide its own approval in the coming days (the CBRS Alliance has already scheduled a launch event for next week). Those approvals would pave the way for ICDs, which are commercial operations in the band that the FCC has agreed to allow in order to monitor how they function. If everything is OK with the ICDs, the band will then be opened for unfettered, unlicensed commercial use. Players in the CBRS industry believe that will likely happen sometime later this year or early next year.

All kinds of ICDs
The below list of diverse CBRS ICDs help highlight why it's time to get excited about operations in the band:

  • CommScope said Athonet will build a 200-square-kilometer 3.5GHz LTE network for a large wind and solar farm operator, which will use the network for functions including employee communications, video surveillance, industrial control and monitoring, thermal imaging, asset tracking and remote control of drones for inspections and other functions.

  • Federated said JMA Wireless built a 3.5GHz network using devices from Cradlepoint to cover 600 acres and 33,000 parking spaces near the American Dream Mall in New Jersey. The network will allow managers to remotely update 30 digital signs in order to direct parking for events at the nearby Metlife Stadium.

  • Federated said Boingo built a private wireless CBRS network with equipment from CommScope-owned Ruckus at Dallas Love Field airport in order to support communications among employees. The network also can potentially be used in a neutral host scenario, where the airport would manage it in order to provide commercial LTE mobile services directly to air travelers. However, the CBRS industry is still working out the details for such neutral host networks, since commercial wireless network operators such as Verizon and AT&T would first have to sign off on those kinds of roaming agreements for them to work.

  • Federated said the City of Chicago is working with Crown Castle, Cradlepoint, Vapor IO and others to build a private LTE network with edge computing functions for things like communications, license plate recognition and drone surveillance.

  • CommScope said it will be doing a bit of dogfooding by building a CBRS network in its own manufacturing facility in Euless, Texas, for video cameras to remotely monitor its equipment.

  • CommScope said telecom operator Windstream is looking to expand its existing fixed wireless offerings with operations in the 3.5GHz band. Federated added that cable operator Midco is planning to do the same thing.

  • Federated said it's working with Wave Wireless, Ruckus and InfoMark to build a private LTE network for some of WeWork's offices for services including secure business communications, automated entry and energy management.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

About the Author(s)

Mike Dano

Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading

Mike Dano is Light Reading's Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies. Mike can be reached at [email protected], @mikeddano or on LinkedIn.

Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.

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