Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum opens up new opportunities for enterprises to deploy private cellular wireless networks (both 4G and 5G) to connect users, applications and devices over a wide geographical area – especially helpful for mobile edge computing deployments.
Leading use cases for CBRS are for enterprises with critical communications (e.g. IoT) requirements spread out over a large area – for example, manufacturing, logistics, health care, energy extraction, mining, utilities, ports, and sport stadiums. CBRS can offer benefits over Wi-Fi in some applications/deployments, including guaranteed quality of service and security – but it is likely to be complementary to Wi-Fi and public cellular in most deployments.
The spectrum associated with CBRS in the United States is a 150 MHz of the 3.5 GHz band (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz). New CBRS technology is just now becoming available with a number of proof of concepts and trials currently in progress. The FCC plans a CBRS spectrum auction in July, which will expand access for service providers and enterprises.
Leading use cases in the enterprise
CBRS fits a number of use cases for distributed organizations, especially in situations where public cellular coverage is non-existent or capacity constrained (large public gatherings). Video surveillance is an interesting use case as hundreds of IP high-definition video cameras spread over a wide area generate a huge amount of data. Other specific examples for CBRS deployment could include:
- IoT sensors in large manufacturing sites
- Smart grids for utilities
- Remote vehicle and robot control
- Control for logistics and distribution centers
Vertical applications include airports, amusement parks, ports, railroads, oil/gas extraction, factories, hospitality, elements of smart cities and public safety.
Building a private cellular network with the CBRS spectrum provides a number of benefits for distributed organizations including the ability to control their own network capacity. Specific benefits include:
- Access to clean spectrum with limited interference to provide predictable performance
- Ability to provide data services in highly remote areas over large geographic areas – which are hard or expensive to serve with other solutions (e.g. Wi-Fi)
- Improved security – as all data is kept within the private network
- Ability to provide low latency connectivity for mission critical applications
Implementation of a wide area network (WAN) via CBRS can be cost effective as compared to other public cellular (4/5G) or Wi-Fi options.
Challenges to Implementation
CBRS has specific requirements to deliver appropriate coverage and bandwidth to distributed locations. It requires new devices (routers, phones, tablets, cameras, IoT devices) that support Band 48 (including CBRS).
Initial deployment of CBRS can be complex especially in terms of radio coverage. Organizations will need channel partners with wireless WAN experience to help them implement CBRS, including the number and location of radios deployed. Current costs of CBRS equipment are higher than Wi-Fi. CBRS spectrum is only available in the U.S. in a specific spectrum band.
Leading CBRS suppliers
A broad ecosystem of technology suppliers are lining up to provide enterprise CBRS products and services. These include the largest network equipment providers (Nokia, Cisco and Ericsson), wireless specialists (Cradlepoint, Digi, Motorola, Celona, Federated Wireless) and a number of leading service providers (AT&T, Verizon, Comcast). The number of technology and services providers will likely expand over time.
CBRS is not a direct replacement for Wi-Fi. The architecture for IoT connectivity over a large distributed area may connect access points to the central location and Wi-Fi to connect the multitude of IoT devices. Over time, many access points will support cellular, CBRS and Wi-Fi communications.
CBRS is targeted at mission critical applications and will not displace many Wi-Fi applications (e.g. guest Wi-Fi). Wi-Fi 6 continues to improve the performance, latency and security capabilities of the ever popular Wi-Fi technology. Public cellular networks – migrating rapidly to 5G – will soon offer guaranteed performance, latency and security for enterprise class IoT applications.
Doyle Research expects most organizations will continue to use Wi-Fi and public cellular services in conjunction with CBRS.
Recommendations for enterprise IT
CBRS is an option for organizations needing high quality connectivity in hard-to-reach locations or situations where public cellular/Wi-Fi becomes saturated and may be unable to deliver the required quality of service. Organizations with extremely sensitive security requirements can also benefit from the exclusive nature of CBRS when deployed as private cellular network.
Doyle Research expects CBRS to grow in popularity to connect IoT devices, especially in latency sensitive, mobile applications over large physical areas. Distributed enterprises with mission critical, distributed IoT applications should investigate the benefits of CBRS. In the near term, a successful enterprise CBRS deployment will require experienced channel partners or service providers.
Lee Doyle is Principal Analyst at Doyle Research, providing client focused targeted analysis on the Evolution of Intelligent Networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was Group VP for Network, Telecom, and Security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in Economics from Williams College. He can be reached at [email protected] and follow him @leedoyle_dc
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