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Making Sense of CBRS — The ‘Goldilocks Spectrum’ 

Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) will be a key enabler for service providers to deliver enterprise customer services and for businesses to develop differentiated models that accelerate digital transformation.

January 30, 2020 6 minute read

Organizations of all shapes and sizes are aggressively pursuing digital transformation to more effectively deliver value to customers, who themselves are rapidly changing the way they approach and consume brands. 

This dynamic is forcing companies to adapt to market trends and industry shifts on the fly.

Leveraging the value of Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) can greatly enhance this effort. CBRS is a shareable band of the 3.5GHz spectrum created by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) in 2015. 

Knowledge is Power: Understanding 5G, Wi-FI and DAS

Prior to CBRS, companies in need of connectivity either had to pay service providers for specific geographical areas, which could be costly, or tap into an unlicensed spectrum, which could be spotty and lead to a poor experience.

With CBRS, organizations can deploy a wholly owned and operated private LTE cellular network that is fast, efficient, reliable and secure. CBRS will lower the barrier of entry for digital leaders in all industry verticals to deploy private LTE networks — or eventually 5G networks — to increase in-building capacity, provide a better experience over Wi-Fi and begin to leverage the Internet of Things for industrial applications or smart cities.

Three tiers

While its radio interface is the same as LTE in the licensed spectrum, the difference with CBRS lies in the dynamic spectrum assignment. To utilize the CBRS spectrum, a CBRS radio device must individually request and be assigned a band by a Spectrum Allocation Server (SAS). When use of that spectrum is no longer needed, the channel is freed up for use.

The FCC created a three-tiered access and authorization framework to govern the use of the CBRS band: 

  • Tier 1 — Incumbents: This tier includes authorized federal users, fixed-satellite service earth stations, and grandfathered wireless broadband licenses.
  • Tier 2 — Priority Access License (PAL) users: The PAL tier involves users licensed on a county-by-county basis through competitive bidding.
  • Tier 3 — General Authorized Access (GAA) users: Users in the GAA tier can operate throughout the band, but must not cause harmful interference to incumbents or PALs and must accept interference from these users.

The ‘Goldilocks spectrum’

The 3.5GHz band, of which CBRS is a part of, has been called the “Goldilocks spectrum” due to its ideal balance between coverage and capacity: the technology can cover broad geographical areas and penetrate buildings while carrying a significant amount of data (both challenges still facing 5G deployment to date). 

Given these characteristics, CBRS will be a key enabler for service providers to deliver enterprise services to customers while extending their footprint for both indoor and outdoor deployments. For businesses, CBRS is anticipated to be a game changer to develop new, differentiated business models that can help accelerate digital transformation journeys.

CBRS, however, remains for many businesses a technological puzzle that raises concerns around system interoperability and integration, ease of deployment, operation and lifecycle management.

Making sense of it all

World Wide Technology recently launched a multi-OEM CBRS Private LTE Lab in our Advanced Technology Center (ATC) to help organizations understand and deploy the technology. 

The lab, which leverages the skill of our dedicated computing and network subject matter experts, can help build proofs of concept, test networking speeds and uncover unknown roadblocks. At the same time, we’re partnering with Intel to collaborate with the CBRS Alliance ecosystem and industry partners to define, prototype, test and deliver private LTE network solutions in real-world trials around the world. 

The ATC, which can mimic the largest of network architectures, is a key enabler of innovation that can help companies mitigate risk while WWT’s integration and supply chain capabilities can accelerate deployment of critical technology solutions. This helps control costs while ensuring organizations deploy the right network architecture that optimizes reliability, security and performance.

What to consider

CBRS offers organizations a new way of deploying wireless, and it has a path forward with 5G specs in the works

Still, planning is key. And well-defined use cases — anything from better connectivity to supporting augmented reality — will be important.

According to research firm Nemertes, next-generation use cases are top of mind for most organizations. Such use cases include Internet of Things initiatives like digital signage, factory sensor networks and robots, augmented reality, virtual reality and drone control. 

Nemertes recommends that enterprises looking to deploy CBRS private LTE should consider the following: 

  • Let the use cases drive the choice of protocol/technology.
  • Use separate networks to drive security, reliability and performance for specific use cases.
  • Seek assistance, especially in the design phase, to avoid unnecessary expense by avoiding over-building without compromising security, reliability or performance.

Additionally, Nemertes has some separate recommendations for private wireless network solution providers:

  • Focus on industry-specific use cases; those offering professional and managed services should field sales engineers and support teams with industry-specific expertise.
  • Provide a portfolio of technologies beyond Wi-Fi that can provide enhanced security, reliability, performance, or economy compared to Wi-Fi.
  • Integrate management of non-Wi-Fi networks with management of Wi-Fi networks in order to simplify IT work.

Those offering professional and managed services should focus on more effective mapping and more efficient design and specification services, and the cost effectiveness they can drive.

Those offering professional and managed services should also bundle services based on vertical adoption patterns to drive use of under-utilized services; for example, healthcare and manufacturing under-use design and deployment, so bundles combining design or deployment with maintenance or management could help expand uptake of design.

Next stop: 5G

The FCC’s decision to open the 3.5 GHz band for shared use means organizations and service providers alike can stand up private LTE networks to enhance coverage and deliver services. 

And, according to a white paper from Harbor Research, those who develop the private LTE market will inherently drive the next steps towards 5G via investment in the distributed network infrastructure. As technologies mature and open standards become the norm, applications based on deeper interactions among devices, systems and people will drive more compound and dynamic value streams

Read More: Speed of Innovation Key for Service Providers to Play a Key Role in the 5G Economy

Like CBRS, 5G technologies require a tremendous amount of collaboration and integration to generate value, thus elevating the value of strategic partnerships — for everything from solution development and integration to knowing when and where to strike. 

WWT’s ability to advise and execute can help companies develop, drive and quickly bring to market strategies that enable CBRS to make the most impact. 

Our outcome-based approach can help identify use cases that will drive technology decisions related to CBRS and allow organizations to more quickly serve their own end customers. 

Combining capabilities that span service providers’ entire network architecture with our deep experience serving enterprise customers, we can help organizations develop and execute on 5G strategies to maximize their return on investment in technology.

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