CBRS gets a boost under new FCC usage rules

New regulations from the FCC will shrink the areas where federal users can pre-empt commercial operations in the CBRS spectrum band.

Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies

June 12, 2024

3 Min Read
red sound wave
(Source: Zoonar GmbH/Alamy Stock Photo)

The FCC announced new rules governing commercial operations in 3.5GHz CBRS that will expand unencumbered services in the band to an additional 72 million people across more than a dozen states.

"Today, we are improving access to the 3.5GHz band for tens of millions of Americans," said FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel in a statement. "The CBRS dynamic spectrum sharing framework is already fertile ground for wireless innovation, and through collaboration with Department of Defense, NTIA and stakeholders, we are expanding opportunities for reliable spectrum access while also ensuring that federal incumbents remain protected."

At issue are the Dynamic Protection Area (DPA) neighborhoods along coastlines and around federal facilities throughout the country. DPAs are areas where federal users such as the US Navy can boot commercial users out of part of the CBRS band. That capability can pose challenges to network operators in DPA locations, such as fixed wireless access (FWA) providers that promise reliable, high-speed services.

Thus, a reduction in the size of the US government's DPA areas may make networks in CBRS spectrum more reliable in more locations.

According to the FCC, users in Texas, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, Georgia and Arizona are among those affected by the new rules.

The FCC's new rules are sure to please companies such as Dish Network, Federated Wireless, Amazon Web Services, Nextlink Internet and Airspan, which are all working to build businesses around wireless services in the spectrum band.

Federated Wireless recently announced its "CBRS Advanced" offering that the company said can make networks in the band easier to deploy and more reliable.

Other big CBRS users include Verizon, Comcast and Charter Communications. However, those companies have been less vocal about the millions of dollars they have spent buying CBRS spectrum licenses.

However, another CBRS topic that the FCC hasn't yet touched is whether to raise power limits in the band. Doing so would allow broadcasts in CBRS networks to expand their geographic reach.

Sharing in the CBRS band relies on several moving parts. Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) networks installed around the US coastline look for federal communications – primarily from the US Navy – in the 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band. If they discover such communications, they alert Spectrum Access System (SAS) managers to immediately move commercial users off that portion of the band.

The FCC said its new rules will allow SAS managers to immediately expand unfettered CBRS services in locations including Atlanta, Phoenix, Las Vegas, San Antonio and Pittsburgh.

The FCC's move comes at an important time. There's an ongoing debate in Washington, DC, over the future of spectrum sharing across the US.

A group of lobbyists – fronted in part by some of the country's biggest cable companies – are urging regulators to pursue expanded spectrum sharing technologies in more spectrum bands. Meanwhile, the 5G industry has generally argued against spectrum sharing in favor of high-power, exclusive-use spectrum licensing regimes.

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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