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As 5G Spreads Across the US, CBRS Unlocks New Opportunities for Rural and Urban Communities

By Arti Loftus

As we start off the new year with new challenges, investment in enterprise 5G deployments that capitalize on the economic benefits of using the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) is driving investments toward the $1 billion mark, according to the Dell’Oro Group.

The overall RAN market includes CBRS, millimeter-wave, and other sub-6 GHz deployments, with Stefan Pongratz, VP and analyst at the Dell’Oro Group, saying in a statement “activity is on the rise with interesting use cases forming around multiple verticals, adding confidence enterprise and private deployments will comprise a greater share of the overall CBRS market over time.”

C-band offers service providers a significant opportunity for the rollout of 5G, even though it requires new planning, deployment, and maintenance approaches which Steve Kaelble writes about for the OnGo Alliance, an industry organization that believes 4G and SG solutions, utilizing shared spectrum, can enable both in-building and outdoor coverage and capacity expansion at massive scale.

To maximize shared spectrum potential, the OnGo Alliance continues to build a robust ecosystem evangelizing 4G and SG OnGo technology, use cases, and business opportunities while simultaneously driving technology developments necessary to fulfill the mission, including multi-operator capabilities.

The Alliance has established a product certification process for OnGo equipment in the U.S. 3.5 GHz band, ensuring multi-vendor interop.

The timing for collaboration, open standards, and cooperation across hardware, firmware, software, and connectivity technology contributors is excellent, given the signing into law of the Infrastructure Bill by the U.S. Senate and Administration, as funds open up to support the building of CBRS-based 5G/LTE networks in towns, large and small, starting this year.

Democracy has always been part of the CBRS movement, as it opens a substantial amount of unlicensed spectrum poised to improve the way Americans learn, work, and live, but until the “technology stack” matured enough to allow organizations to tap into that spectrum, applications have been low key.

Because of investments in infrastructure, both physical and digital, CBRS makes sophisticated technologies more available to anyone who needs faster and more reliable wireless connectivity at reasonable prices, whether for smart manufacturing plants, universities and schools, public venues and stadiums, hospitals, and clinics and much more.

CBRS exists in the radio frequency spectrum between 3.55 GHz and 3.70 GHz, with 150 MHz of highly valuable spectrum asset. The band is in use, for example, by the U.S. military, who most notably use the spectrum for radar (air, water, and ground) for air traffic control and defense systems.

This is not “open range” – as commercial entities (which are growing in number and size in the U.S.) must not interfere with incumbent users like the military, but with a good deal of standards and cooperation in place, it’s been smooth sailing.

“The 3.5 GHz band is a tremendous opportunity for educational organizations, enterprises, wireless Internet service providers and others to change how they communicate wirelessly with much lower costs and less risk when the right security protocols are in place that lead to truly private networking,” said Jonathan Schwartz, founder and CEO of JpU, a company focused on helping their direct customers and service providers build CBRS 5G networks, working with partners, and providing what is essentially software, programmable, cloud-based operating system.

JpU has implemented dozens of networks in the U.S. across education, energy, and precision agriculture markets in what Schwartz says is “a fraction of the time it would take to stand up traditional WiFi or other private wireless deployments.”

Around 2010, the FCC went looking for an additional spectrum for mobile communications as demand for mobile services exploded, and in 2015 published initial rules for commercial use of the CBRS band.

They established a tiering system with Tier 1 for incumbents, Tier 2 for Priority Access License (PAL) holders who may use up to 40 MHz each in a county-based license area (up to 70 MHz total across multiple PAL holders), and Tier 3 for general authorized access (GAA) users, who are allowed to use up to 150 MHz as long as they’re not interfering with incumbents or PAL holders.

CBRS is fully compatible with 4G LTE and 5G NR networks, and by FCC rule, it is being promoted as the first mid-band spectrum available for 5G in U.S. Technologies such as 4G and 5G.

(In many other countries, 5G development is being built using a mid-band spectrum, with different names for those bands).

LTE and 5G are multiservice architectures that support broadband data, narrowband data, voice over IP, messaging, video, and emergency systems which is perfect for more modern networks if there is technology embedded into the core of the network and at the edge of the network that supports quality of service.

4G LTE networks utilized an evolved packet core or EPC, while 5G Radio Access Networks tie RAN tie into the 5G Core (often called 5GC).

“Demand for wireless services has become clear in the world of education, accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic forcing students and teachers to communicate virtually,” Schwartz said. “On-demand news, sports, and entertainment is also driving business cases, and as we see the world continue to open up to live events, we’re seeing investment in school and commercial campuses, sports stadiums and arenas, concert halls, convention centers, family entertainment parks and more as operators understand the advantages of secure, private, fast and reliable connectivity supporting digital experiences.”

JpU is part of the OnGo community, which is working closely on delivering on the promises of low latency supporting automation and IoT, point-of-sale systems, digital interactive signage, and other innovations that are changing the way people interact with brands, products, and services.

“The great news for governments in rural communities or in underserved urban areas is the new availability of cost-effective, secure networking that can have a great impact on public services and safety, with citizen engagement opportunities that are defining how funding from the Infrastructure Bill is being allocated – leading to greater digital inclusion, and not just smart cities, but smart small towns,” Schwartz said. “The neutral host business networks JpU’s core and services support are key parts of economic development, and leveling the playing field for manufacturers, for example, in America’s heartland to be able to compete with better automation, robotics, and precision tools.

Schwartz says that Industry 4.0 – the latest Industrial Revolution – “is now available to all, whether farmers are wishing to transform their fields using agtech or driverless tractors or renewable energy companies contributing to solar, wind and thermal power options making their communities cleaner and more self-reliant.”

OnGo offers the potential to tap into the 150 MHz of spectrum, without the need to share the band with WiFi and other unlicensed uses, flexible for both indoor and outdoor needs.

In addition to companies like JpU, cable operators are using OnGo to deploy LTE networks, whether for traffic offload or simply to set up their own mobile service offering similar to MVNO models.

Rather than offloading to WiFi, cable operators can deliver better user experiences with LTE across a host macro network combined with an OnGo small cell network, which is an important option given that cable operators are not known for acquiring licensed spectrum in the U.S.

“We’ve chosen to build our business models using a federated model, supporting neutral host providers who play their role with expertise, and allow smaller service providers or businesses to avoid technical and business risk,” Schwartz explained.

“CBRS is a super game-changer, and given the FCC’s emphasis on the band, they’ve allowed the rules to be changed. Not only will CBRS 5G enterprise networking improve education, healthcare, public safety and more, it will drive innovation which is at the heart of the American dream, and American recovery.”

Arti Loftus is an experienced Information Technology specialist with a demonstrated history of working in the research, writing, and editing industry with many published articles under her belt.

Edited by Luke Bellos
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