Facebook Teams With CommScope to Join the 3.5GHz CBRS Party

Facebook is looking to test operations in the 3.5GHz CBRS band near its Menlo Park, Calif., headquarters. While such tests may never result in any real products or services from the social networking giant, they do help to underscore the growing momentum behind wireless services in the soon-to-be-opened spectrum band.

In its request to the FCC to conduct the tests, Facebook said only that it wanted to "understand the technical performance and capabilities of CBRS based technology." The company said it would use equipment from CommScope's Ruckus unit, which the vendor inherited through its recent acquisition of Arris, for the tests.

A Facebook representative confirmed that the company is hoping to conduct CBRS tests -- Facebook filed for the test request under the "FCL Tech" subsidiary it has used to conduct other wireless tests, including operations in the 6GHz band and high-altitude operations.

The representative did not provide any more details about what Facebook is hoping to learn from the tests, pointing only to comments that Facebook's Dan Rabinovitsj provided recently to the WIA, a trade association for the cellular tower and infrastructure industry. "We see a lot of potential for CBRS spectrum to expand access to fast and reliable internet service," said Rabinovitsj, a former Ruckus and Arris exec who joined Facebook last August. "We're currently exploring ways of partnering with the industry around CBRS and are excited to see the momentum building behind this area."

A wide range of companies are either testing or preparing to deploy commercial services in the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band. But perhaps even more interesting are the business models and services that are being considered for networks in the band: Players like Amazon have hinted at private LTE networks while cable companies like Charter have tested mobile LTE networks, while others are looking at providing IoT-style services for enterprises for fixed wireless Internet offerings to rural areas.

And given Facebook's wide-ranging activities in the connectivity space -- the social media giant has dabbled in everything from airborne, drone-powered base stations to improvements to WiFi and networking using millimeter-wave spectrum -- it's unclear what Facebook might use the 3.5GHz CBRS band for.

Either way, the FCC is soon expected to open the CBRS band for commercial operations.

After years of work and months of delay, much of the government's testing of commercial operations in the 3.5GHz CBRS band is now finished, and those in the CBRS sector expect to begin Initial Commercial Deployments (ICDs) in the band in the coming weeks. ICDs involve FCC staff essentially looking over vendors' shoulders to make sure that everything is working right. If everything looks OK during the IDCs, only then will the FCC allow real commercial deployments. Those in the CBRS industry expect to happen sometime in the third quarter of this year. CBRS spectrum auctions are currently expected to start in 2020.

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

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