Workers at TSMC chip plant enjoy CBRS network at their housing

A CBRS private network will help the chipmaker TSMC bring semiconductor manufacturing to the U.S. TSMC is sending technicians to Arizona to help train the U.S. workers installing manufacturing equipment in its new fabs, which will start production later than expected due to labor shortages. Additional TSMC employees are coming to work in the fabs once they come online. Housing for almost 300 of the TSMC workers will be provided by a real estate developer called Greenlight Communities, which has invested in CBRS private networks at two of its Phoenix-area properties. 

Greenlight Communities rented all 292 apartments at its Cabana Happy Valley complex to TSMC. The developer describes itself as a provider of “high-quality, affordable options that create opportunities for real connection.” Part of that connection is a mobile app that tenants can use to communicate with each other, as well as to control their apartments’ thermostats and smart locks. Residents can also see what’s going on inside their units through connected cameras.

When it built the Happy Valley Cabana complex, Greenlight Communities contracted with a company called LittleBird to manage the smart locks, thermostats and cameras. LittleBird installs a controller in each apartment, which uses Z-Wave to connect to the smart home devices. The controllers have Ethernet ports, but the Ethernet drops in the apartment complex were dedicated to the ISP. So Greenlight Communities and LittleBird turned to CBRS private wireless for their IoT network.

It takes a village [of vendors]

The companies chose Alef to manage the private wireless IoT network. Alef places servers in colocation facilities near its enterprise customers. These route user data from the private network to the enterprise network, and control plane traffic to Alef’s evolved packet core.

Alef typically puts no hardware at the enterprise location, and it does not own wireless spectrum, so for these elements Alef needs partners. Jim Jacobellis, Alef’s SVP of sales and technology partners, said one of the first partners he called for the Happy Valley Cabana project was Tony Eigen, VP of marketing at Baicells. (Eigen and Jacobellis both worked for private networks pioneer Geoverse, whose founders patented a solution to allow operators of public and private networks to compensate each other for access by using blockchain technology.)

Baicells provided four CBRS radios for the Happy Valley Cabana complex. One is mounted on the roof of the clubhouse and connected to a Cox Communications circuit for backhaul. The clubhouse radio aggregates the traffic from the other three through point-to-multipoint backhaul procured by VALL Technologies, a Colorado company that also handled the RF design and installation.

The private network uses unlicensed CBRS spectrum and Alef partnered with RF Connect’s CELLocity to monitor the frequencies and move the radios to new channels when necessary. Google Cloud provides the Spectrum Access System that authorizes the radios to connect.

MultiTech provides CBRS bridge devices for each apartment. These devices have antennas that allow them to connect to the CBRS radios, and Ethernet connections to the Little Bird controllers. Jacobellis said future versions of the LittleBird controllers will include CBRS connectivity. He said LittleBird also plans to support Wi-Fi, so that its solution could potentially be used to turn a CBRS network into an internet connection for apartment residents.

The same team of partners has also developed a CBRS network for another Greenlight Communities apartment complex in Mesa, Arizona. Jacobellis said the next use cases for the CBRS networks will likely be video monitoring and control of security gates, and potentially connected EV charging stations. 

Greenlight Communities is not the only residential real estate manager looking into CBRS. Greystar, which manages more than 800,000 multifamily and student units, is exploring the use of CBRS as backhaul for managed Wi-Fi, according to Cris Kimbrough, the company's senior director for smart building technology.