Stymied by shutdown, CBRS community aims for full commercial service in Q3

The temporary shutdown of the FCC last month certainly put a damper on the ability to get Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) equipment certified, but the CBRS Alliance expects to see initial commercial deployment (ICD) in the second quarter of 2019, with full commercial service occurring in the third quarter.

Of course, all of that could change if another government shutdown happens, but that’s the current assessment from CBRS Alliance Board Chair Chris Stark, who issued a statement to that effect to alliance members after the board’s quarterly meeting in San Francisco last month. That view is informed by all of the information currently available to the board, which acknowledged that some of the macro issues may play out differently than it’s anticipating and accounting for.

“The Board has recently initiated a number of parallel and complementary efforts to ensure that commercial service occurs as soon as possible and that the impacts to our members from the partial government shutdown are well understood, while being careful to highlight that the Alliance takes no position on the issues behind the shutdown,” Stark said in a statement.

The alliance is planning a campaign to increase awareness for the OnGo brand as the second quarter approaches, likely targeting enterprise IT (C-level and IT managers), according to Lisa Garza, chair of the CBRS Alliance Marketing Working Group and director of marketing at Federated Wireless. OnGo is the brand the alliance adopted to identify CBRS products that will be interoperable.

The entire CBRS ecosystem has been involved in tests and trials over the past year or so to ensure the whole thing works as planned. Expectations had been for initial commercial launches to start by the end of last year, but that didn’t happen.  

According to Garza, last month’s government shutdown affected the CBRS Alliance and its members in a few ways. Of course, the suspension of equipment authorizations by the FCC was an issue for anyone trying to get Part 96 (CBRS) infrastructure or client devices approved for the band.  

The Telecommunications Industry Association (TIA) also noted the impacts the shutdown had on 5G equipment authorizations, and the CBRS ecosystem found itself in the same boat, along with every other sector that relies on FCC authorization. There’s been a related concern that the longer the shutdown lasted, the larger the backlog of pending grants that needed to be cleared when full operations resumed, and this effect will be magnified if the shutdown is re-instated, Garza said.

RELATED: Federated Wireless sees results of redundancy in ESC network for CBRS

The other primary impact to CBRS was a delay in Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) certification. The Institute for Telecommunications Sciences (ITS), which is the research and engineering arm of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) under the Department of Commerce, suspended its testing of first-wave SASs during the shutdown.

ITS had been contracted by the FCC to conduct SAS and ESC testing and things had been progressing quite well, with ITS having completed lab testing of ESC sensors in mid-December and issuing draft test reports to the ESC Operator applicants just before the shutdown, she said. Similarly, SAS lab testing was moving along nicely, but came to a halt during the shutdown.

“We didn’t lose any time over the holidays since testing and other approval related activities were not expected during those two weeks, but between Jan 7th and Jan 25th the shutdown directly impacted the SAS and ESC approval timelines,” Garza said.