“There hasn’t been an opportunity like this until now” – the CBRS buzz about IoT
Dave Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance, wants to be clear: the 3.5 GHz shared spectrum band should not be considered an IoT band. “It’s very much a multi-purpose band,” he says, really in response to persistent questioning about IoT scenarios for private operation of the 150MHz-wide Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) broadcast band.
A number of consumer handsets have been recently authorised by the US Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for use in CBRS Band 48 spectrum (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz) – including Samsung’s new Galaxy S10 and Google’s Pixel 3 Band 48 phones. Its major, perhaps the major, application brings bandwidth support to familiar mobile devices in buildings and public spaces, whether networks are managed by enterprises or operators themselves.
“IoT represents an important use case, but private LTE services using handsets or laptops or whatever are just as important. The opportunity for better in-building cellular service for smartphones with a neutral host capability, that’s really one of the largest opportunities here,” says Wright. CBRS can fill a hole in network coverage where distributed antenna systems do not make economic sense, particularly for small and medium sized commercial properties.
“We think CBRS is the solution,” he says.
Nevertheless, as Qualcomm observes in a blog about new 3GPP work on unlicensed usage of the 6 GHz band for standalone 5G (5G NR-U), there is real excitement that new spectrum, notably unlicensed spectrum, will be a boon for new digital services and transformation – which really captures the hype around 5G. The same pent-up buzz is notable in MulteFire circles about the opportunity for standalone industrial IoT applications using unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band – and, with the 1.1 release of the MulteFire specifications, in the 800/900 MHz, 1.9GHz, and 2.4GHz bands.
Lorenzo Casaccia, vice president of technical standards for Qualcomm Europe, comments: “Licensed spectrum is essential for cellular communication and that will continue in the 5G era especially for the traditional mobile broadband services. But when it comes to extending 5G into new markets, I think the opportunities generated by adding support for unlicensed spectrum cannot be overstated.”
Of course, CBRS airtime will be auctioned as an LTE resource, in the first instance, offering opportunities for running networks in both unlicensed general access (GAA) and licensed private access (PAL) spectrum. But spectrum is precious, and the mid-band presents a rare opportunity and neat balance in terms coverage and capacity for industrial enterprises.
Wight agrees. “It’s very important to the IoT space in terms of providing mobile oriented spectrum with all of the benefits of LTE or a 5G NR carrier – in terms of battery efficiency, airtime efficiency, in spectrum that is very predictable and reliable. Aside from partnering with a mobile operator, there really hasn’t been an opportunity for IoT services with those characteristics until now,” he says.
Indeed, private LTE, a feature of MWC last year, and pushed hard by the likes of Nokia, has been stuck in proof-mode. MulteFire’s momentum has been stymied, perhaps, as the market has been preoccupied with the early race for non-standalone 5G – as a go-fast version of 4G LTE, essentially. But CBRS is limbering up. The Small Cell Forum and the CBRS Alliance last week announced they will work together to develop and promote LTE-based OnGo-branded units for the 3.5 GHz ecosystem.
The CBRS Alliance launched in August of 2016 with six founding members (Google, Qualcomm, Ruckus Networks, Intel, Federated Wireless, and Ericsson). It now has 120 members, with 20 joined in the last quarter alone. “It’s not just that we’re adding members, but the mix and diversity of them – which really reflects the opportunities CBRS is offering to a number of different vertical markets.”
He runs through the mix: “All the tier-one mobile operators, the largest cable operators, industrial players looking at private LTE, rural wireless providers for point-to-point and rural access, enterprises, looking at private LTE and neutral host scenarios for in-building deployments.”
Among the Band 48 devices to gain FCC authorisation, a number of modules from Sierra Wireless for enterprise devices like laptops, and industrial IoT devices from Cradlepoint have also been passed. “It is clear that the device bottleneck is broken and CBRS deployments can begin in earnest across all key industries,” commented Iyad Tarazi, president and chief at Federated Wireless.
Aside, Federated Wireless has submitted an extension to its own deployment application to the FCC, to include planned deployments from 25 customers spanning all 50 US states and the District of Columbia. “The reality of commercialisation has opened up a whole new round of interest and innovation, especially in the Private 4G/5G market,” said Tarazi
He added: “The manufacturing, utility and transportation sectors are exploring the use of CBRS for industrial IoT. From smart cities to smart agriculture – the early conversations are turning into deployments.”
Does Wright think CBRS changes things for the private LTE market, in the US at least? “Yes. CBRS is a huge milestone, and really opening up the market for private deployments. And I would put it up there with other spectrum access frameworks that are being put forward in other geographies. But, yes, CBRS is a bellwether in terms of opening up access to mobile oriented spectrum to a much broader ecosystem of the players.”
To be continued (after MWC)… Subscribe to the newsletter to get the next instalment.