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Will CBRS disrupt the in-building wireless market?

The answer may depend on the FCC...

by Martha DeGrasse

Citizens Broadband Radio Service is expected to help businesses augment coverage and capacity just as distributed antenna systems do today. Companies will need a license to use the spectrum but they won't necessarily need carrier transmission agreements or carrier equipment.


"The DAS market is going to fundamentally transform thanks to technologies like CBRS," said analyst Nick Marshall of ABI Research. "If you're a small or medium-sized business you could ask your IT guy to go out and buy some CBRS access points and acquire a license and install them, much the same way as you do Wi-Fi."


The process of acquiring a spectrum license is completely new to most enterprises, and the Federal Communications Commission has yet to set the rules for how this spectrum will be auctioned. Larger carriers want longer license terms covering larger geographic areas, while enterprise bidders will presumably need smaller areas and may favor shorter terms to keep auction prices lower. According to iGR's recent CBRS market study, several service providers and equipment vendors have proposed varying license term lengths: three years for some, five years for some, and ten years for others. 


Last year, the FCC appeared ready to create an auction process that would include shorter terms, but then T-Mobile US spearheaded a campaign to set longer terms so that large service providers could invest with a reasonable expectation of a return. Now the agency is expected to create a compromise solution.


"I don’t want to see 3.5 being structured in such a way that only the largest carriers are interested," said FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr. Carr added that Commissioner Mike O'Reilly is overseeing the agency's work on the 3.5 GHz spectrum auction, and said the band is increasingly seen as a potential 5G frequency. 


"A lot of people are interested in 3.5 as maybe the first sort of 5G deployments," said Carr. "In my view we want 3.5 to be a place to try to give a shot for every business model to succeed."


One business model that is unlikely to succeed without lower cost licenses is private LTE networks owned and operated by hotels, campuses, hospitals or factories.


"There are questions around CBRS licensing schemes and terms so it will take a couple of years to see what service happens," said Marshall.


But the companies that make in-building wireless equipment are not waiting around. ADRF and Zinwave have both announced support for CBRS already. And Marshall notes that all DAS vendors may eventually be able to leverage the technology, if they can use CBRS small cells as DAS signal sources in place of macro base station equipment. This type of solution would enable companies to deploy private LTE without direct carrier involvement, but would not eliminate the roles of the system integrators and DAS equipment vendors.


CBRS Market Study

Provides an explanation of how the CBRS licensing scheme works and how the technical elements of the new band work. This report includes a forecast of the total number of CBRS nodes expected to be deployed in the U.S. through 2022. The forecasted number of nodes is categorized by Outdoor WISP, Outdoor non-WISP, Inside Commercial, and Inside Residential. This report also profiles 33 companies that are part of the CBRS ecosystem.

Access the Table of Contents


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