The 3 main CBRS use cases, and why cable may benefit most

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For one thing, the spectrum will be used for wireless capacity deployments over small cells in dense urban markets. (Getty Images)

The CBRS Alliance held an event this week to celebrate the start of initial commercial deployments for Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS). An analyst from New Street Research attended the event and handily summarized the three key uses cases for CBRS.

First, the spectrum will be used for wireless capacity deployments over small cells in dense urban markets, and this will result in the biggest impact from CBRS, writes New Street Research analyst Spencer Kurn.

He noted that Verizon plans to use CBRS solely for additional wireless capacity in dense markets, primarily outdoor.

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A second big use case for CBRS is for fixed wireless broadband (FWB) deployments in rural markets. “AT&T plans to deploy CBRS spectrum for FWB in rural markets,” writes Kurn. “They will use a traditional RAN architecture on 1,100 macro sites (2% of total). Their ultimate goal is to use CBRS in conjunction with the C-Band to significantly boost capacity.”

Smaller wireless operators are also interested in CBRS for fixed wireless. Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), spoke at the CBRS Alliance event this week. Aiken told FierceWireless that many WISPA members are following CBRS closely as their access to spectrum is being changed. “The upside is there’s potentially more spectrum available,” he said. “The downside is you no longer have that semi-protected framework available to you. It will be more mediated by the Spectrum Access System (SAS).”

RELATED: Why small wireless carriers care about all the CBRS hullabaloo

Access to CBRS spectrum for fixed wireless also presents a big opportunity for cable companies and a competitive threat to wireless companies.

Cable's opportunity

“Overall, the insights from the event support our view that cable companies stand to benefit the most from CBRS,” stated Kurn.

While wireless carriers large and small will use CBRS to advance their fixed wireless rollouts, this probably won’t have a huge impact on their overall subscriber counts. But, New Street Research predicts that it could have a more significant impact for cable operators who will use CBRS to extend their reach in rural markets from the edge of their cable plant. “We estimate this could enable cable companies to pass an incremental 6-7 million homes,” writes Kurn.

Charter CEO Tom Rutledge, speaking at the Goldman Sachs Communacopia event this week, also talked about the company’s interest in rural markets. Charter has been testing CBRS radios on its plant with dual SIM devices that allow a customer to use its wireless MVNO, which rides on Verizon’s network, or alternately use Charter’s network, whichever is best from an economic standpoint. “That looks like it works,” he said.

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New Street’s models assume that cable may be able to reduce its MVNO costs by roughly two-thirds over the next several years “boosting EBITDA per sub by ~$10 per month, on average."

Finally, the third big use case for CBRS is private LTE deployments.

RELATED: Cradlepoint eyes CBRS spectrum to offer private LTE as an escape from Wi-Fi

Ken Hosac, VP of IoT strategy and business development at Cradlepoint, says his company sees an opportunity to provide private LTE to enterprises by using CBRS.  “A lot of enterprises are trying to use Wi-Fi in applications where it’s just not working,” he said. The company says its wireless routers can be used in conjunction with the CBRS spectrum to provide enterprises with a way to escape from Wi-Fi in use cases where Wi-Fi is not sufficient.