The Federal Communications Commission has been working for several years on freeing up access to 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. Those frequencies are currently used by Department of Defense radar installations and for fixed satellite services. The current plan includes three tiers of spectrum usage comprised of federal and non-federal incumbents, priority access licensees and general authorized access users. Access would be under a flexible model taking advantage of technology to reduce interference between users. The 3.5 GHz band is emerging as a potential roaming band for 5G.
Right now CBRS is being used for rural coverage in areas like the Sierra Nevadas and rural Georgia where ExteNet Systems has worked with locals WISPs to build systems compliant with the FCC’s Part 90 rules and ready to upgrade to the Part 96 rules governing shared access once they are finalized.
CTO Tormod Larsen said ExteNet Systems has been testing CBRS for some time, while simultaneously growing their business in rural markets. “We talk about network convergence, they’re doing mobility, they’re doing fixed wireless and they’re doing it in more traditional frequency bands. As part of that, we’ve known a number of these fixed wireless providers for quite awhile and their desire to migrate from Part 90 to 96.” He also sees opportunity for private LTE networks in support of enterprise and industrial applications. “What we see here early on is a number of opportunities around private LTE networks and under that umbrella is some IoT stuff, mission critical type applications, some of them requiring low latency close to real time.”
Boingo Wireless CTO Derek Peterson said, in the commercialization of CBRS, “Regulators are a key factor. And the handsets always come a little slower too. They good news is…they’re getting ready for CBRS, hopefully by the end of 2018. Now it’s the regulators. They’ve got to get out of the way. Even though the regulators are slowing us down, we’re keeping it moving.”
Mark Pitts, of Power & Tel, regarded regulators as “probably the biggest challenge going forward. You can use what’s currently available in the CBRS band to provide 10 or 15 Mbps to 30 or 50 folks off a single tower site. In 2015 they halted the licensing of that 50 megahertz band so they could develop those CBRS rules and here we are almost three years later and they still haven’t opened that new plan up for tripling the frequency. Now it’s only going to take longer when you throw in 3.5 for rural consumer broadband. It seems like it could be held even more. Those are problems that private companies aren’t going to have the power to go out and solve. It depends so much on the federal government to listen to the marketplace.”