Why small wireless carriers care about all the CBRS hullabaloo

rural area
The new CBRS regime includes spectrum sharing technology. (Pixabay)

There’s a Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) event today that’s garnering attention from large and small wireless carriers alike. Speakers at today’s event include executives from Verizon, AT&T and Charter, as well as FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and Frederick Moorefield, a deputy CIO with the Department of Defense.

Claude Aiken, CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), will also be speaking as a representative of small wireless carriers in the United States.

The CBRS Alliance is holding the event today in Washington, D.C., to celebrate the start of Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) of its OnGo service in the CBRS 3.5 GHz band. OnGo, a brand of the CBRS Alliance, is associated with some CBRS-based spectrum sharing services.

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Asked why small wireless carriers who belong to WISPA have an interest in CBRS, Aiken said it’s mostly because of their fixed wireless access (FWA) deployments.

Many WISPA members are people who live in rural areas and, being fed-up with the lack of decent broadband connections and having an entrepreneurial spirit, decide to create their own FWA deployment. This involves setting up some access to fiber. Sometimes they can reach fiber via a telephone pole, but often they have to access it via a couple of microwave hops. Then they need to find vertical infrastructure to set up point-to-point or point-to-multipoint antennas to serve a several-mile area. Another critical piece of the puzzle is to access spectrum.

They’ve been using spectrum within the 3650-3700 MHz portion of the band, which Aiken referred to as “license-light.”

He said, “Those licenses are effectively going away over the course of the next several years so that the CBRS regime can be put in place. Our members who are fixed wireless rural broadband members are hoping to transition their use of this 50 MHz of spectrum into 80 MHz of GAA."

By GAA, Aiken is referring to the unlicensed portion of the CBRS band, dubbed General Authorized Access (GAA).

“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).”

Spectrum Sharing

The new CBRS framework also includes spectrum sharing technology. There are three levels of priority under the new framework. Federal groups such as the U.S. Navy get top priority when they come into the band. The next level of priority is for Priority Access Licenses (PALs). This spectrum will be auctioned off by the FCC in June 2020. “It gives the holder something akin to what they would get under a traditional licensing regime,” said Aiken.

RELATED: FCC moves toward June 2020 auction of CBRS spectrum

And finally, there’s the GAA tier.

The innovative thing with this new framework is that spectrum that is not being used can be allocated by the SAS depending on whether a federal incumbent is in the area.

Ericsson and Verizon talk about using Dynamic Spectrum Sharing (DSS) technology so that the same spectrum can be used by 4G and 5G equipment. The spectrum sharing created by the CBRS Alliance is different, but Aiken said it is “dynamic.”

“I think it would be fair to call it DSS,” he said. “It’s actively mediated by a database that is calculating propagation models based on geo location, tilt, height and a bunch of other variables of the radios deployed and communicating with that database. It’s the first real big experiment on spectrum sharing on an industry-wide basis.”

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