Following the completion of its acquisition of Ruckus, cable equipment vendor Arris said that the 3.5 GHz CBRS market could well grow into a $1 billion opportunity within the next five years.
“CBRS is very exciting,” said Steve Martin, CTO for Ruckus Networks, which was acquired by Arris late last year. Martin made his comments today during a presentation at Arris’ investor day. “We’re on the verge of being able to commercialize these services.”
Indeed, Martin laid out Arris’ view of the CBRS market and how Ruckus will play into it, essentially providing some of the reasons behind the cable vendor’s purchase of a company that primarily sells Wi-Fi equipment to enterprise companies. Martin said that Ruckus has been an early leader in the CBRS space. He said the company has completed 15 CBRS trials, including one that covered 90 nodes both indoors and outdoors, and has six more tests in progress and seven that are planned. He also said that the company is now poised to combine Wi-Fi and LTE technology into easy-to-install access points that it hopes to sell to airports, hotels and other venues and enterprises.
Indeed, Arris officials have said that the combination of LTE and Wi-Fi technology essentially creates a “5G experience” because it allocates a wide pipe of bandwidth to end users. “These two worlds [LTE and Wi-Fi] have been largely black and white, they’ve been distinct,” Martin explained in his presentation. But through Ruckus’ OpenG products (the vendor’s brand for its CBRS offerings), customers can obtain “the best of both worlds.”
“Wireless is becoming the fourth utility” for building owners, alongside power, water and heating and cooling, Martin said. “This is really the trend that we’re building on.”
Specifically, he said Arris’ Ruckus business plans to sell access points that can support LTE and Wi-Fi, thus allowing enterprises and building owners to quickly and easily provide high-speed wireless services, both through unlicensed Wi-Fi connections as well as through licensed LTE services running in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band.
“What we’re trying to do is package all of this together for the enterprise market,” Martin noted, naming companies like GE and FedEx, railroads and hotels as possible sales targets that would want to deploy Ruckus’ access points. He argued that such access points would be much cheaper for those customers to deploy than the distributed antenna system networks that have so far provided the bulk of wireless connectivity inside buildings and other, bigger enterprise locations.
Further, Martin said that Ruckus is planning to offer plug-on modules for its existing Wi-Fi access points that will add LTE 3.5 GHz CBRS capabilities to the devices. “It allows Wi-Fi access points to be upgraded,” he said. “You’ll be able to selectively go back and upgrade those services. … That’s a really unique approach.”
However, Martin noted that wireless operators would first have to agree to support this kind of “enterprise neutral host” scenario, where a venue like a hotel would deploy its own CBRS LTE equipment that customers from different wireless carriers, like AT&T and Verizon, would all be able to use. Martin noted that wireless carriers like Verizon have voiced support for the CBRS band, but added that full, industrywide support for “neutral host” services likely wouldn’t happen quickly.
“That will take a couple of years for that to really come to fruition,” Martin said of neutral host services, but added that “the economics are compelling.”
Indeed, momentum around the CBRS space continues to build. Wireless operators like T-Mobile and Verizon have been testing services in the 3.5 GHz band, likely as a way to add capacity to their networks, while other players like cable company Charter have been eyeing the band for services ranging from fixed wireless to MVNO offload. The FCC is currently expected to vote on final rules for spectrum sharing in the CBRS band this summer, and Martin said Ruckus expects initial commercial deployments in the band to happen as soon as the end of this year.