How CBRS spectrum changes the game for wireless industry innovation in the US
This week the CBRS Alliance formally announced a new technical specification to incorporate 5G into the CBRS standards for the 3.5 GHz band.
This comes on the heels of the FCC authorization to use the Citizens Broadband Radio Service band (CBRS band) in the US. This is an exciting prospect for the wireless industry as it provides new options for incumbents and new entrants alike to access new spectrum, thus enabling new use cases and business models never before seen.
Spectrum policy is known to evolve slowly and so the recent FCC announcement that CBRS General Authorized Access (GAA) is henceforth authorized for full commercial deployment is a “crack in the ice” when it comes to how the industry approaches 5G spectrum and use of the airwaves. And now with the addition of 5G to the standards for this band, a remarkable breadth and depth of use cases are possible. It is truly an exciting time to be in this business!
At Ericsson we have been working on CBRS since the beginning and are really excited by the potential. We see CBRS spectrum as a huge opportunity for our customers to improve their customers’ experience and to develop new business with industry and enterprise.
I addressed the nuts and bolts of CBRS is this blog, CBRS – how shared spectrum changes the game. Here I want to address what we see as the biggest opportunities with CBRS Band commercial deployment.
CBRS band - What will we use it for?
Complement to Mobile Networks
The MNOs (Mobile Network Operators) as existing super-users of the airwaves are always looking to enhance their user experience. Spectrum is the lifeblood of a mobile network and the constant and ever-rising traffic demand has created a need for more mobile spectrum, even as the industry continues to improve the capacity in each generation of cellular technology. CBRS spectrum provides operators with an opportunity to enhance their small cell layer, without having to reuse spectrum used for macro network, thereby increasing overall network capacity in urban / downtown areas. A CBRS band added to outdoor radios, and aggregated with bands already in service, will boost throughput and provide for a better customer experience. MNOs are already using LAA (Licensed Assisted Access) for this purpose, and the expectation is that CBRS far exceeds the performance of LAA. While waiting for C-band this offload and capacity management approach makes sense. Ericsson is deploying CBRS in this model with a Tier 1 operator. Learn more here.
Reduce dependency on MVNO Networks
Cable companies (MSO) offer MVNO subscriptions bundled with their cable services to retain subscribers. Recent MSO offerings have surpassed 2 million subscribers and are gaining traction. MNO mobility charges per Gig incurred by MSOs seeking nationwide coverage for their subscribers. This weighs heavily on the business case. Why then would they not surgically build their own partial network and lighten the burden with some healthy “owner’s economics”? MSOs extol the virtues of the strand-mounted cable as a deployment vehicle for CBRS hotspots soaking up capacity from their host MNO networks. The trick of course is to make the capacity sponges the correct size and to mount them in the correct place. Ericsson is developing CBRS strand mount solutions with US operators to exploit the ease of deployment on the strand.
Fixed Wireless Access
Until now Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) has meant re-purposing valuable mobile capacity for fixed broadband. Now CBRS provides a new option to conserve existing mobile spectrum for mobile users. CBRS will also be used by new entrants including WISPs who can convert existing services to the CBRS band.
CBRS can give a realistic 100Mbps offering at an economic distance, either on GAA or PAL (when extra Service Level Agreement prudence dictates). While not a head-to-head with Fiber, for rural and suburban cases CBRS is a very viable option. Also, if combined with US government rural subsidy schemes, the business proposition would really be a slam dunk. CBRS can also be combined with mmWave to really enhance uplink performance as a pièce de résistance. Learn more about Fixed Wireless here.
Enterprise coverage & neutral host – where innovation is happening
It is outside the realms of MNO, MSO, ILEC and brethren that CBRS really animates the possible offerings. Where is the much-heralded innovation of the “innovation band”? - the business owner, landlord or factory owners that now have a new tool to address their needs and to realize their ambitions!
Once the capabilities of Wi-Fi are spent and limits reached, the CBRS band offers a unique combination of capabilities that are spawning innovation.
- LTE and 5G NR indoor and outdoor coverage on enterprise buildings and campus
- Reliable and high QoS network for mission critical needs - that Point of Sale device, that asset tracking system or next generation communications services with video, chat and enhanced messaging
- Seamless experience for end users between public and private network
- High security networks
Mall-owners, for example, could enable their tenants to enhance the mall experience, staving off bricks and mortar rigor mortis. The mall goers too need to feel the 5G nature of their trip to keep them coming out to visit.
Neutral host is a term that then raises its head; how do I offer service to consumers from multiple operators? This is now the debate as technology exists to deliver this roam in and out capability. There is a lot of innovation in business models in this area although challenges remain. Dual SIM Dual Standby on some flagship devices now will help build new go to market options – look for new ideas in 2020 and beyond to push these models forward.
Ericsson has developed radio solutions with CBRS that can be used in all these new use cases. Check out these videos from MWC 2019 in Los Angeles where we were showing our CBRS Radio Dot for private network use cases, and how CBRS will add to licensed spectrum to bring indoor bandwidth to 1.3 Gbps and beyond.
Wireless service provider opportunity
I firmly believe that the innovation in this ‘innovation band’ presents new opportunities for ecosystem players large and small, including growth potential for wireless service providers. Service providers have multiple options to deliver hybrid and private networks to industry and enterprise. Not all end customers want the job of deploying and managing their own networks, and many will want interoperability with carrier networks. CBRS is a tool in the tool chest to enable providers to match their offers to the market needs with flexible architectures, service models and spectrum options.
What do we expect of the band?
I outlined some use cases above that will get us going, but fully expect more to emerge. We have had unprecedented industry cooperation to get to the point, and the opportunities to deliver new services is tremendous. 2020 will be an exciting year as the momentum continues for all of the potential use cases. I expect in 2021, when 5G in CBRS really hits its stride, we will see maturity in offers across the spectrum of deployment models, architectures and business models especially for business and mission critical use cases that will take advantage of 5G enhancements.
Hold on for a wild ride!
For more information:
CBRS Alliance - CBRS Alliance Opens Gates for First U.S. Mid-band 5G Deployments
Learn more about Ericsson CBRS – be sure to watch the videos at the bottom of the page