Delays not affecting 5-year CBRS RAN forecast: Dell’Oro

Short-term delays and renewed concerns about the network economics for outdoor deployment of Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) won’t impact the five-year forecast for the CBRS Radio Access Network (RAN) market, according to the latest Dell’Oro Group report.  

The overall CBRS RAN market outlook is relatively unchanged since the firm’s January 2019 update. That is to say, the researchers still believe CBRS will grow rapidly between 2019 and 2023, with cumulative RAN investments projected to comprise a tangible share of the overall North America RAN market. The overall CBRS RAN market is expected to generate cumulative investments surpassing $1 billion over the next five years.

That may not be too surprising given the early stages of the CBRS market in the U.S., where it has nowhere to go but up. However, mobile operators are not overly enthusiastic about power restrictions and the implied cost per bit challenges with the CBRS band, according to the report.

“There is a fine line between pleasing everyone and no one. And even with more questions raised about the outdoor CBRS TCO, our underlying position has not changed—we remain excited about the CBRS opportunity and continue to believe that the majority will benefit, resulting in material CBRS investments over the next five years,” Stefan Pongratz, senior research director for RAN and telecom capex with the Dell’Oro Group, said in a statement.

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Asked about the concerns via email, Pongratz pointed to a section of the report that said proposed Equivalent Isotropically Radiated Power (EIRP) levels are not ideal for cable providers that seek to use the CBRS band to reduce their reliance on service providers for broader coverage or for operators that need to use the spectrum for capacity augmentation. Even with the presumed spectrum savings, it will be cost prohibitive to rely solely on the CBRS band for coverage given the tight EIRP requirements.  

The report noted a recent T-Mobile filing with the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) where the operator estimated the limited EIRP levels will result in a 13 dB delta, roughly 20 times weaker, between typical systems and networks operating in the CBRS spectrum. The main implication from the power limitation is that the cost per bit economics will be disadvantaged until the inter-site distances are reduced, which could prompt operators to delay plans to use the CBRS band for capacity augmentation until the economics can be justified.

“While this power limitation is not necessarily new information, clearly the improved clarity about Sprint’s 2.5 GHz holdings in combination with the uncertainty about the availability of the 3.7 to 4.2 GHz spectrum is likely spurring operators to consider possible mid-band alternatives,” Pongratz told FierceWirelessTech.

According to Dell’Oro Group, CBRS investments are projected to account for a mid-single-digit share of the overall North America RAN market. Fixed wireless access is expected to drive the lion’s share of the CBRS capex over the near term.

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When it comes to the CBRS band posing a threat to Wi-Fi, Pongratz said their WLAN and RAN assumptions have not changed. “We don’t envision that enterprises will start turning off their Wi-Fi networks just because they deploy LTE or 5G NR in the CBRS band,” he said. “Instead we believe it is much more likely that an enterprise would capitalize on the combined 650 MHz of bandwidth available in both the 5 GHz and 3.5 GHz bands and prioritize the spectrum based on the required QoS.”