Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) has been around for a while, but adoption has been slow. With a fresh certification program, a new organization behind it, and renewed promise for the future, it’s time to take another look at this 3.5 GHz small-cell technology.
I recently caught up with my esteemed colleague Dave Wright of Ruckus Wireless (now an Arris company), who also happens to be the president of the new CBRS Alliance. The alliance, much like the Wi-Fi Alliance, is both cheerleader and product certification body for products that fall under CBRS. Wright has been a CBRS champion and technical guru since the tech emerged. Here's what he said about the latest CBRS developments.
Badman: What is the new CBRS Alliance’s role? Cheerleader? Standards body? Interoperability testing? How analogous is it to the Wi-Fi Alliance?
Wright: The Alliance is seeking to do all those things. We want to evangelize OnGo LTE solutions in the CBRS band, develop technical specifications where needed to enable those solutions, and ensure interoperability between OnGo certified products. To that extent, I think there is a good deal of comparison to the Wi-Fi Alliance’s mission in relation to 802.11 technologies.
LB: What should WLAN pros know about CBRS?
DW: CBRS is one of the next big things in wireless LANs, along with .11ax. It opens up the world of LTE to the enterprise and industrial markets, and to the WLAN professionals who serve those markets. LTE solutions in CBRS can be used to meet the internal, private, connectivity needs of an organization, especially for mission-critical applications where the predictable nature of the spectrum and the robustness of LTE combine to offer a highest quality wireless service to complement the existing WiFi networks operating in 2.4 and 5 GHz. Additionally, those same networks can be made available to the subscribers of the mobile operators via neutral host technologies being defined in the CBRS Alliance. The mobile operators are obviously very familiar with LTE; this allows them to provide better in building service for their subscribers without having to build out those networks themselves.
LB: Sounds promising, but why do I care as a WLAN professional?
DW: CBRS also creates a role for the WLAN professional to provide the installation services. This is because each CBRS Access Point/eNode-B -- a “CBSD” -- must report its location to the Spectrum Access System (SAS) when it registers. The FCC requires that CBSDs must be able to either self-determine their location to a relatively high level of accuracy or be professionally installed. This has led to the creation of a Certified Professional Installer (CPI) program by the Wireless Innovation Forum -- WInnForum, which has created the requirements, specifications, and protocols to operationalize the CBRS framework at a ‘radio agnostic’ level. The CPI services are a natural extension of the typical design, deploy, and monitor services that are offered by many WiFi systems integrators today, and which apply equally well to CBRS-based LTE solutions.
As the cellular industry shifts to focus on network densification with lower-power small cells, especially indoors, there will be growing demand for wireless professionals who understand and can apply small cell-design principles, and who have domain knowledge of the enterprise and industrial markets – and the specific vertical sectors within those broad categories.
LB: More opportunities for us to expand our services is good. But, when will it really matter?
DW: People should be paying attention to this now. There have been a number of significant milestones in the last month: the CBRS Alliance launched the OnGo certification program, the FCC issued an order on Dynamic Protection Areas (DPAs), and WInnForum released the SAS test code and test harness. These are all lead ups to commercial service in the band, and there will be a number of additional announcements over the summer. Things are really picking up in anticipation of mainstream commercial launch.
There have also been a number of recent industry announcements, including some from companies like Verizon and Charter, talking about their plans for the band and their expectations for client devices that will support Band48 -- the 3GPP band definition for CBRS. I suggest folks review the latest webinar recordings from the WInnForum and CBRS Alliance to get up to speed.
LB: Will CBRS become something that Joe Average (non-techie) is aware of?
DW: Joe Average may never become aware of “CBRS”, but the alliance is working hard to make them aware of “OnGo,” which is the end-user focused brand that we launched last month…The hope is that “OnGo” will become as familiar to people as “Wi-Fi” is today.