CBRS, What Is It?

 Nov 18, 2019   |    ​Jim McCoy, Senior Director, Edge Technology Solutions, Black Box Corporation

It is the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) name and abbreviation for a 150 MHz block of frequency in the 3.5 GHz band. In this case the FCC chose Citizen’s Broadband Radio Service and CBRS.

FCC Spectrum Review

Years ago the FCC began to proactively review their allocations of spectrum to different uses to 1) determine if the spectrum was fully utilized geographically or if additional users could ‘share,’ and 2) determine if the original allocation was no longer necessary due to technology obsolescence. Recently, the FCC has placed special emphasis on the review of frequencies below 6 GHz as they are acknowledged as most economically viable for use with wireless mobility services.

FCC Identifies CBRS Spectrum

The FCC identified the 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band reserved exclusively for US Navy radars as underutilized. Clearly this band was only sparsely used along U.S. coastlines, and could be reused/shared if proper interference protection could be proved for incumbent users. The FCC coordinated with the Department of Defense (DoD), the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and commercial industry to approve the Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC). This is a network of sensors along the coast that listen for radars connected with a national database coordinating all users of CBRS radio channels e.g. the Spectrum Access System (SAS). This approach ensures protection for the radars and allows maximum (real-time) flexibility for all users.

Further, the FCC wanted to ensure maximum adoption and utilization of CBRS. The 3.5 GHz CBRS band has been valued at $15.6 billion and opens the door to a huge market opportunity for Mobile Network Operators (MNOs), enterprises, industrial players, and the broader U.S. economy. Industry groups representing the MNOs and the Wi-Fi industry lobbied for control of the entire CBRS band. The FCC ultimately decided to auction 7 of the 15 CBRS channels Priority Access Licenses (PAL) in June 2020. The remaining 8 CBRS channels will remain General Authorized Access (GAA). There will be no unlicensed users, but GAA is available to anyone — given professional network installation and proper registration with a SAS.

Verizon has publicly stated their intent to participate in the auction process for PAL channels, and their plans to use LTE technology. MNO participation in CBRS ensures availability of compatible devices (smartphones, tablets, modems, etc.) as well as robust network equipment.

Initial Commercial Deployments (ICD) for CBRS started in October 2019. With ICD, companies like Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Nokia, Ericsson, Google, and Sony have started to invest and create businesses using OnGo.

Two segments are poised for early adoption. The first segment is secure mission critical voice/data/IoT applications that do not require access by any general public users, i.e. private LTE networks. The second segment is all other enterprises that don’t want to wait on the MNOs to provide public access. The early adopters of private LTE over CBRS will be hospitals, hotels/casinos, public venues, warehouses, and industrial/manufacturing.

OnGo Certification

OnGo™ is a brand of the CBRS Alliance. It represents uncompromised wireless connectivity, enabled by spectrum sharing in the 3.5 GHz band. The CBRS Alliance has developed the OnGo Certification Program to ensure seamless integration and deployment of OnGo wireless solutions, and to support widespread market adoption of OnGo technologies. OnGo Certified is a recognized seal of approval for OnGo products, indicating that they have met a high set of industry standards for interoperability and security. For enterprises deploying Private LTE or Industrial IoT, the OnGo Certified brand indicates they are purchasing a product that will work as advertised when installed.

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