Wireless ISPs (WISPs) that deploy fixed wireless broadband service in the CBRS spectrum band should see their valuations increase, according to a new report about CBRS and WISP valuations from the Knowledge Exchange Division at CoBank, a key lender to rural service providers. CoBank also expects CBRS to offer an exit strategy for WISPs that might not previously have had one because WISPs that deploy in the CBRS band will be more attractive acquisition targets for larger carriers.
The CBRS band will be a good choice for WISPs because a large swath of it will be available for unlicensed use, and in rural areas, this unlicensed spectrum should be relatively uncrowded and should support higher throughput in comparison with options that WISPs have today, the report notes.
A different portion of the band will be auctioned and is expected to be used by large operators – and according to the report, that’s a good thing. “Widespread adoption (by tier one wireless operators, cable operators, private enterprise, WISPs, etc.) of the band will create a robust ecosystem of devices, chipsets and infrastructure equipment,” the report observes.
Traditionally, WISPs have had to use the crowded Wi-Fi spectrum band, which does not support the range or throughput of the CBRS band, the author notes. Complicating matters is that much of the equipment the WISPs have used is not standards-based. According to the author, “[b]uying these types of networks offers no synergies” as any acquiring operator would typically feel compelled to decommission the existing network and moving customers onto different technology. Thus, the potential acquirer would be “better off overbuilding the market and acquiring the customers that way,” the report argues.
A WISP that deploys in the CBRS band will be more attractive to a potential acquirer because the WISP business could more easily be integrated into the operations of a larger carrier that is also likely to use the CBRS band, the author argues.
“We think this is an avenue that all WISPs should explore,” says report author and CoBank Knowledge Exchange lead economist Jeff Johnston in a YouTube video about the report.
The CBRS band includes mid-band spectrum between 3550 and 3700 MHz, including 70 MHz of spectrum that will be auctioned and 80 MHz of which will be unlicensed. The spectrum will be shared with military users, with a spectrum access system (SAS) ensuring that WISPs and other service providers do not use the spectrum in areas along coastlines where it may be in use by the military.
The CoBank report puts the 80 MHz of unlicensed spectrum in perspective when the author notes that this amount of spectrum is just shy of T-Mobile’s entire spectrum holdings that are currently servicing that company’s 79 million customers.
Other interesting observations from the report, titled “Spectrum Sharing Shows Promise for Broadband Access in Rural America,” relate to a Google initiative to help WISPs deploy CBRS-based fixed wireless.
That strategy includes acting as a SAS administrator, providing training and certification programs involving CBRS equipment installation, and providing a network planning tool to help WISPs architect their fixed wireless networks. Google has the potential to gain more users for its cyber resources by broadening and enhancing rural broadband. In addition, the company is poised to get a monthly household SAS access fee of $2.25.