If someone were to make a project management PERT chart for the commercial deployment of wireless communications in the CBRS band, it would be a complex one, with numerous interrelated tasks. Nevertheless, the pieces seem to be falling into place for some CBRS commercial deployments soon, possibly as early as later this year.
Those were Telecompetitor’s key takeaways after talking last week to Dave Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance and a knowledgeable source about all things CBRS. The CBRS Alliance is a certification and marketing organization focused on using LTE technology in the CBRS band to support a range of use cases, including fixed and mobile service, neutral host (providing infrastructure for use by multiple network operators) and private LTE (enterprise networks based on LTE technology). The alliance also is responsible for the OnGo brand created for the CBRS band.
“One of the things we think is unique [about the CBRS band] is the variety of use cases,” commented Wright.
En Route to CBRS Commercial Deployments
One key CBRS milestone is set to be reached later this month when the FCC votes to finalize rules for the band, which will include 150 MHz of spectrum between 3550 and 3700 MHz, about half of which will be available for unlicensed use.
Another key milestone was reached last week when the CBRS Alliance released a list of access points from several manufacturers that have received OnGo certification. Those manufacturers include Ericsson, Nokia, Sercomm and Ruckus/ ARRIS. According to Wright, the list includes equipment supporting fixed and mobile wireless, neutral host and private LTE. Initially, at least, the CBRS band is expected to rely in large part on LTE technology, although eventually it also may support 5G.
OnGo certification means that equipment has passed testing by the FCC, the Wireless Innovation Forum (Winn Forum) and the CBRS Alliance, Wright explained. The FCC testing confirms that a device operates within the power, frequency and interference guidelines established for the CBRS band.
CBRS Alliance testing is focused on LTE aspects of the equipment. Winn Forum testing is designed to confirm that equipment can be properly managed by a spectrum access system (SAS) – an important requirement for the CBRS band because commercial users will be sharing spectrum with incumbent military users, who will continue to have exclusive use of the spectrum in protected areas, primarily along coastlines.
Interestingly, the FCC has not yet certified spectrum access systems but based on input from the CBRS Alliance and others, the commission agreed to certify access points that had been demonstrated to interoperate properly with a SAS emulator developed by Winn Forum.
CBRS End User Devices
Now that several access points have received certification, Wright expects to see end-user devices such as mobile handsets, laptop dongles and fixed wireless customer premises equipment gaining necessary certifications within a few weeks. As he explained, some of the certification testing for end-user devices requires those devices to be tested with certified access points – a requirement that couldn’t be met until some access points were certified.
Meanwhile, Wright noted that the FCC is working with the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences, a department of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, to determine how spectrum access systems will be certified. Several companies, including Google/ Alphabet, already have developed SAS technology for use in the CBRS band.
“Once lab testing of SASs is completed and the FCC and DOD have reviewed [it, they] will let the SAS administrators go to initial commercial deployment,” Wright said. Initial SAS deployments will be on a limited scale but after the deployments pass a monitoring period, the SAS administrators will be able to move on to full deployment, he said.
Some network operators already have done limited CBRS deployments using experimental licenses granted by the FCC but as Wright explained, one of the prohibitions for those deployments is that operators cannot use the networks to support commercial service.
It’s also worth noting that a portion of the CBRS band – between 3650 and 3700 MHz – is already available for lightly licensed use and that wireless internet service providers (WISPs) have undertaken deployments in that portion of the band, with the understanding that the equipment was software upgradeable to use a broader portion of the band once commercial deployments are allowed. Wright expects to see manufacturers of this equipment to submit devices with the new software for certification before the software can be made available to the WISPs.
A Tight Timeline
Although it would appear that there is still a considerable amount of work to be done in preparation for CBRS deployments, Wright noted that FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly told attendees at an industry event just last week that he hoped to see initial deployments this year.
AT&T has said it expects to undertake commercial CBRS deployments to support fixed services in 2019.