For Turku, Finland-based Fairspectrum, the 3.5GHz CBRS band in the US represents an opportunity to bring its expertise in dynamic spectrum access to a bigger market. The company, which also has offices in London and Boston, filed an application with the FCC a few years ago to become a spectrum access system (SAS) provider for the CBRS band.
It's still waiting for an answer.
Fairspectrum isn't alone. It is one of a handful of companies that are part of a second wave of SAS providers. These companies have filed paperwork with the FCC to become SAS providers but are waiting for FCC approval to move to the next step and submit their SAS solutions for lab testing with the NTIA and the Department of Defense.
"We have been waiting," said Heikki Kokkinen, CEO of Fairspectrum. "There is a promise that the second wave of applicants will be processed soon but the FCC decides on the timing of these applications."
SAS providers are an important part of the CBRS ecosystem because they basically manage CBRS operations dynamically to ensure that there are no interference issues among incumbent users, general authorized access (GAA) users, and the new priority access licensees (PAL).
The first wave of SAS providers received conditional approval from the FCC in 2016 but it wasn't until 2020 that their SAS solutions were actually approved for commercial use. Those companies – Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, Key Bridge and Sony – all had to undergo rigorous testing with the NTIA and the DoD first.
"Many of the companies in the first wave of SAS providers were early proponents of CBRS," said Preston Marshall, engineering director at Google and chairman of the board of the OnGo Alliance, which makes sure that there is multi-vendor interoperability for equipment used in the CBRS shared spectrum band. "We worked on the standard and when the FCC put out the call for applicants, we were ready to move. The second wave saw the opportunity after it emerged."
Marshall said that he doesn't know why the FCC hasn't moved on the second wave of applicants but he suspects that it has had other priorities, such as organizing and conducting the CBRS PAL auction, which concluded in August. That auction raised more than $4.6 billion in total bids. In addition, Marshall noted that the current COVID-19 pandemic has also hindered some projects at the FCC from making progress. "I think taking on new challenges has been hard because of COVID," he said.
However, he added that the second wave of SAS applicants will not have to meet any requirements that are different than the first wave did, even though there have been newer features added.
The OnGo Alliance has made some recommendations to existing SAS providers with the goal of optimizing operations in the PAL and GAA spectrum, according to Dave Wright, president of the OnGo Alliance and the head of spectrum policy and standards at CommScope.
Nevertheless, Fairspectrum's Kokkinen is hopeful that the FCC will move ahead with the second wave of applications soon. In the meantime, the company has been conducting trials of its technology in different countries using different spectrum bands. It currently has some satellite communications projects that involve dynamic spectrum access, Kokkinen said.
"I believe the market is big enough for several SAS administrators," Kokkinen said, noting that there are many different segments, from wireless Internet service providers to industrial users, that will need a SAS administrator. "We will focus on one or two market segments and get a foothold in those," he added.
Indeed, large companies often look for multiple CBRS technology vendors in order to avoid relying on just one company. "Lots of customers seem to want multiple relationships," Wright said.
Overall, research firm Dell'Oro Group predicts total revenues from operations in CBRS spectrum will increase more than three-fold in the next four years. And Wright said there are already 185 FCC-authorized CBRS client devices, 121 FCC-authorized CBRS basestations and fully 2,545 CBRS-certified professional installers.
— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.