CBRS — What is it?

Chris Wharry — General Manager, George R. Brown Convention Center

In 2015, the FCC established the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) which allows shared usage of the 3.5 GHz band.   The CBRS band was a product of a national broadband plan to find an additional 500 MHz of spectrum for commercial use.  Currently, 3.5 GHz is used by the U.S. Navy for radar, mainly in coastal areas.  Being that the band was not frequently used, the FCC worked with the Navy on a plan to permit and share the spectrum.  Sharing spectrum is a relatively new concept but has been well received by the industry.  This allocation was created as another means to provide high-quality broadband internet and cellular offload.

The CBRS will be regulated by three access tiers – Incumbent Access, Priority Access and General Authorized Access.  A cloud-based Spectrum Access System or SAS will be implemented as a way to protect higher-tier users from lower-tier users as well as optimizing the usage of available spectrum.  The SAS will maintain a database of all CBRS radios and their locations to protect from interference and coordinate power and channel settings.  The process is a bit complex, but these systems are in place to ensure the multiple tiers play fairly together.  The Incumbent Access tier, which includes the military, will be given priority over all other tiers.

What is significant about the CBRS is the ability for groups to purchase potentially low-cost licenses for protected spectrum.  As wireless networks become more and more congested, there is a greater need to operate critical networks securely and without risk of interference.  Airports, hospitals, industrial plants and large public venues are just some of the places that could benefit from the protected spectrum.  Enterprises and service providers could also utilize the 3.5 GHz band for IoT connectivity and potentially a replacement for WiFi services.  Cellular providers are interested in CBRS for future 5G deployment.

So when will we see CBRS in action?  The FCC has recently granted licenses to vendors to conduct trials. Meanwhile, active demonstrations are currently in progress.  The FCC is still fine-tuning the rules of CBRS, and the auction process still needs to be set.  The expectation is that we will see 3.5 GHz incorporated in devices as soon as 2018.   It will be interesting to see how the industry will fully utilize this new spectrum and the exciting products that are sure to come from it.

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