Unlicensed CBRS 4G Service Coming Q4 2018

Wireless services using public 3.5GHz spectrum will arrive later this year, but exactly when licensed 3.5GHz spectrum will get sold off is less clear.

Nonetheless, the CBRS Alliance is pushing ahead with the "OnGo" certification of devices that use the LTE techology this year. There have been 9 authorized tests and 12 certification requests so far, according to CBRS President David Wright. (See CableLabs to Host First CBRS Alliance Interop and CBRS Alliance Tags Test Labs for 'OnGo' Certification Program.)

"A number of those are actually completed and awaiting final approval from the FCC," Wright says.

Most of the initial infrastructure will be small cells. Wright says some larger infrastructure is also coming, in accordance with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) rules.

Initial services will be in General Authorized Access (GAA) spectrum, and provide unlicensed LTE-like coverage in high-traffic areas for mobile coverage, Wright said. He also expects the products to be used by rural ISPs for wireless coverage, and by businesses for private LTE networks.

Of course, CBRS infrastructure is useless without devices that can connect to it. "Verizon has gone on record, they expect to see band 48 (3.5GHz CBRS) in handsets in 2019," Wright said. (See Verizon Tests 4G CBRS With Partners.)

Carriers such as AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) and T-Mobile US Inc. , as well as Verizon, are all moving towards CBRS soon. Major companies like Google (Nasdaq: GOOG) have also been testing the technology. (See US Interest Grows in 3.5GHz Wireless Broadband and Google Looks to Test 3.5GHz Broadband Radios.)

The CBRS band offers 150MHz of open spectrum in the 3.5GHz band in a tiered system managed via Spectrum Access System (SAS) databases. Military satellites and radar get priority access, while Priority Access License (PAL) holders get priority over GAA users, who have access to around 80MHz of unlicensed spectrum at the moment. (See Discussing 5G Spectrum on Capitol Hill.)

Although the FCC now has GAA rules in place, its final rules on the PAL licenses have not been laid out before an auction of the PAL licenses. This means that GAA services could be up and running by the fourth quarter of this year, while licensed spectrum could take longer.

Wright was leery of making any prediction of exactly when the PAL auctions will happen. "It's hard to say," he said, noting that the auction will "slot in" amongst forthcoming 5G spectrum auctions when the rules are set out. (See First 5G-Specific US Spectrum Auctions Coming November.)

— Dan Jones, Mobile Editor, Light Reading

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