The 3.5GHz CBRS space continues to inch forward, with AT&T, Charter Communications and a wide variety of other companies conducting extensive new tests of services in the spectrum.
Similarly, there's progress on the device side of the equation as well. As Federated Wireless recently pointed out: "Band 48 devices are now entering the market." Of note, the company said Samsung's new Galaxy S10 supports the CBRS band, dubbed Band 48, as does the Google Pixel 3. And companies like Sierra Wireless and Cradlepoint are building CBRS devices for the enterprise and the Internet of Things.
Federated Wireless said it now counts planned CBRS deployments from 25 customers spanning all 50 states and Washington, DC. "The reality of commercialization has opened up a whole new round of interest and innovation, especially in the private 4G/5G market," Federated CEO Iyad Tarazi said today in a release. Federated is one of several companies looking to provide Spectrum Access System (SAS) management services for companies building CBRS networks.
And it's no surprise that Charter and AT&T are among the companies that are conducting new tests of CBRS operations. Both have previously made clear their interest in the 3.5GHz band.
Charter today received approval from the FCC for a test of a fixed wireless service using Ericsson's baseband equipment and Seowon's Customer Premise Equipment (CPE) in Davidson County, NC.
"Charter will deploy 3-sector base station radios at four existing communications towers, and install Customer Premise Equipment at trial participant homes, in order to evaluate a CBRS-based LTE Fixed Wireless Access network designed to test the provision of broadband access to unserved and underserved markets," the company wrote in its filing with the FCC. "This network will be enabled by a Charter-owned packet core network. During the trial, Charter intends to pilot broadband capability of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream for volunteer residential trial participants. The trial will involve no cost to trial participants."
Charter last year said that it would conduct fixed wireless tests in North Carolina and New York as well as mobile tests in New York City and Los Angeles. The company has already conducted tests in Denver; Tampa; Bakersfield, Calif.; Coldwater, Mich.; and Lexington, Ky.
This is all part of a broader effort by Charter to play in the mobile space. Already the company is offering mobile phone services via Spectrum Mobile offering, an MVNO through Verizon's LTE network. And, according to the analysts at New Street Research, Charter CFO Chris Winfrey said the cable company plans to use unlicensed and licensed spectrum to expand Chater's mobile relationship with its customers. He said Charter is testing wireless services across 28GHz, 29GHz, CBRS and C-Band spectrum.
Similar to Charter, AT&T recently received FCC approval to conduct fixed and mobile tests in 3.5GHz spectrum in a wide range of locations in Ohio and Tennessee. That makes sense considering AT&T last year announced it would work with vendors Samsung and CommScope to expand its fixed wireless services into 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum (AT&T is currently using its WCS spectrum for its fixed wireless services). AT&T plans to eventually expand its fixed wireless service to over 1.1 million locations by the end of 2020, including in Alabama, Arkansas, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi, North Carolina, Ohio, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin.
AT&T, Charter and Federated are among a wide range of companies eyeing the CBRS opportunity.
According to Boingo CEO David Hagan, many companies are looking at CBRS spectrum as a way to deploy 5G. "So the 3.5 spectrum, incredible interest from the carriers. It's being added into some existing design projects that we have with the carriers and they're calling it, we got to add 5G to this. In their terminology they're using the CBRS as the 5G. So that's really exciting," he said during the company's recent quarterly earnings conference call, according to a transcript of the event. Boingo has said that will likely will add CBRS spectrum to some of its existing DAS and WiFi networks throughout the United States.
However, the entire CBRS industry continues to wait for final sign off from the government to begin commercial operations in the spectrum. Specifically, the NTIA's Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS) in Boulder, Colorado, continues to test the CBRS industry's Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) operations.
The SAS and ESC are crucial elements in the shared-spectrum paradigm that makes the CBRS 3.5GHz band work. The ESC is used to see whether US Navy radar systems -- which have been operating in the spectrum for years -- are currently using the 3.5GHz band. If they are using the band, the ESC then tells SAS vendors like Federated about the situation, so that those vendors can move around actual users in the CBRS band to prevent them from interfering with US Navy operations.
Thus, NTIA testing of the system is critical to ensure that military operations aren't affected. And those tests are ongoing.
That testing situation has delayed initial rollouts of commercial CBRS in the unlicensed portion of the band, which some players in the space had initially hoped would happen in 2018.
Further, many in the industry expect auctions of the licensed portion of the CBRS 3.5GHz band to occur in 2020 at the earliest.