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CBRS Emerging as Viable Wireless Option for Enterprises

CBRS mid-band spectrum
Craig Leddy

Craig Leddy

By Craig Leddy

Amid all the hoopla over 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and advanced LTE services, another wireless technology is blossoming that promises to provide exciting new options for enterprise businesses.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a federally supported wireless capability that is moving toward widespread deployment. Using a swath of 150 MHz of shared spectrum, CBRS provides the means for fixed wireless networks that businesses and institutions can use for private line services to connect multiple facilities or offer customers mobile broadband and wireless applications.

The cable industry is taking keen interest in CBRS, as are other telecommunications providers and technology companies. Charter Communications (aka Spectrum) is testing a CBRS-based fixed wireless service with non-paying customers in a rural part of North Carolina. In New York and Los Angeles, Charter is testing dual-SIM smartphones to explore seamless handoffs between cellular and CBRS small cells. Comcast has tested CBRS for both fixed and mobile service, while Cox and Mediacom also are involved in tests.

Charter's Craig Cowden

Charter’s Craig Cowden

Business services figure prominently into providers’ plans. CBRS is “a real door opener” for enterprise business applications, said Craig Cowden, senior VP, wireless technology, for Charter, during a Light Reading event at the recent SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo.

Channel Partners’ “Cable Connection” column focuses on cable provider developments in business services and channel-partner relationships.
CBRS Alliance's Dave Wright

CBRS Alliance’s Dave Wright

Dave Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance, listed several initial use cases available to cable providers, including offering mobile broadband service, using fixed wireless to extend wireline services and offering private networks and managed services to SMBs and enterprises. The alliance, which counts 149 member companies including Charter, Comcast and Cox, is certifying CBRS equipment solutions under the brand of OnGo.

Without naming names, one technology supplier told me his company is working with several large enterprises seeking to utilize CBRS, including outfits in hospitality, transportation and utilities, each of which are seeking to connect multiple sites wirelessly. Another supplier said stadiums and other large venues are taking interest in CBRS to serve their facilities with wireless broadband. In other quarters, CBRS is being introduced for IoT applications and smart cities.

A CBRS Primer

If you’re unfamiliar with CBRS, the first thing to know is that the CB initials are unrelated to citizens band radio, which popularized trucker communications in the 1970s and prompted cultural expressions such as “10-4, good buddy.” CBRS uses shared spectrum in the 3.5-3.7 GHz band, which is divvied between incumbent users such as the U.S. Navy, a portion to be auctioned in 2020 for priority access licenses (PALs) and an unlicensed portion for general usage.

The mid-band spectrum is attractive because signals can travel for miles and, properly configured, the propagation characteristics enable signals to penetrate through buildings — attributes that some 5G spectrum doesn’t possess. CBRS runs on antennas and small cells and requires far less densification than 5G mmWave (millimeter wave) spectrum, according to engineers.

Google’s Involved, Naturally

In what’s believed to be unprecedented in telecommunications, the federal government has authorized private companies to provide automated systems to coordinate usage of the shared spectrum. In September, the Federal Communications Commission approved initial commercial…

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