It seems like it has taken forever, but the FCC has finally approved the start of the initial commercial Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) deployments. For those in the industry who have been working on CBRS, it literally has been years of work. There are some happy people in the OnGo Alliance right now. In fact, the original proposal for the shared spectrum dates to 2010, and the FCC’s original proposed rulemaking was issued in December 2012. No one can accuse the FCC of rushing things.
We at iGR have been preparing CBRS deployment forecasts for the last couple of years. We had to keep updating the timeframes as the launch was delayed again … and again … and again. Obviously, this was frustrating for us, but worse for companies that depend on the commercial availability for revenue.
But one especially important development has resulted from the delays: There are now more consumer smartphones available that support the new CBRS band. If CBRS had been launched earlier in 2019 (or even the end of 2018), the devices available for use would have been limited to MiFi routers and embedded modules. This summer, smartphones appeared from Samsung, LG and others.
And on Sept. 12, Apple announced the iPhone 11. Although most people noted the lack of 5G support (not surprising considering the recent switch from Intel to Qualcomm chipsets), the important feature of the new phones is the inclusion of support for Band 48 (3.5 GHz CBRS). In fact, you have to buy model A2111 to get CBRS, but this appears to be the only model available in the United States.
The availability of smartphones from Apple, Samsung, LG and others means that consumers have a wide range of choices for CBRS devices, and the base of potential users will increase far more quickly. Simply put, as consumers upgrade their smartphones, they are more likely to obtain a CBRS-capable device. Someone buying an older model will not have access to the new band.
For the companies, buildings, enterprises, cable operators and mobile operators, the availability of consumer devices means that CBRS can be used more quickly. For example, if a mobile network operator were to deploy CBRS using carrier aggregation to increase capacity in certain areas, subscribers using a new Samsung/LG/Apple/etc. would benefit immediately. And every time a new smartphone is sold, the number of potential users increases. If CBRS had been launched earlier this year, this would not be the case.
iGR has updated its CBRS market forecasts and has included a total addressable market (TAM) forecast for commercial buildings split by vertical industry. We will have more work on CBRS in the near future. CBRS presents a great opportunity for the entire wireless industry, and now, with the availability of consumer devices from major brands, that opportunity will be easier to realize.
Iain Gillott is the founder and president of iGR, a market strategy consultancy focused on the wireless and mobile communications industry. The company researches and analyzes the effect new wireless and mobile technologies will have on the industry, on vendors’ competitive positioning and on its clients’ strategic business plans. Visit www.igr-inc.com.