The FCC is planning on unveiling its final(?) plan to promoting wireless investment in the 3550-3700 MHz Band at its November open meeting. The original plan for the Citizens Broadband Radio Service at 3.5 GHz, which came out back in 2015 and called for three-tiered shared access between incumbents, Priority Access Licenses (PALs) and General Authorized Access (GAA) users, soon got swept up in 5G-mania with carriers eyeballing it as part of their mid-band spectrum strategy.
The FCC is expected to adopt limited changes to the rules governing PALs to make them more useful for 5G, as well as more valuable at auction. Most importantly, it would increase the size of PAL license areas from census tracts to counties. Making the licenses renewable and extending their terms to 10 years will also make them more carrier-friendly. Establishing seven nationwide PALs with bidding credits for rural and Tribal entities will also establish the importance of the band in 5G.
“Our 3.5 GHz proposal … reflects the Commission’s aim of freeing up mid-band spectrum for 5G and other flexible uses,” Chairman Pail told the Americas Spectrum Management Conference in Washington DC. “This order makes targeted changes to our rules to promote investment and innovation in this important band. For example, by allowing providers to renew 3.5 GHz licenses, we’ll substantially increase their incentives to develop 5G services using this spectrum.”
The Order would also permit partitioning and disaggregation of areas within PALs and facilitate transmission over wider channels without significant power reductions.
The Commission maintained its in-band spectrum aggregation limit of 40 megahertz (in other words of four PALs) of the possible 70 megahertz per license area at any given point in time. Over half of the band—a minimum of 80 megahertz—is reserved for GAA use, which is licensed by rule. GAA users can operate throughout the entire 150 megahertz of the 3.5 GHz band on any frequencies not in use by PALs but may not interfere with them.
In another speech also in front of the Americas Spectrum Management Conference, FCC Comm. Michael O’Rielly said the previous licensing structure of the Priority Access Licenses was flawed because of the growth of mobile and the emergence of 5G.
“On that note, it’s clear that U.S. wireless providers and the international community have targeted the mid bands for 5G, with the CBRS band right in the bullseye,” O’Rielly said. “The United States must be at the forefront to determine and harmonize bands and establish standards so that our industries benefit. This is particularly true for the 3.5 GHz band, which is seen as the key global roaming band for 5G.”
3.5 GHz Band Could be First Home for 5G
The wireless industry is ready to move forward to deploy fixed or nomadic wireless in the 3.5 GHz band, Tony Sabatino, SABRE Industries, said in an interview with Clayton Funk, MVP Capital, at the AGL Local Summit in Kansas City last week. 5G as a mobility service will not come out in the 2020-2022 timeframe.
“CBRS Band will be the first launching point for high-speed fixed access in rural areas,” Sabatino said. “We are working in a rural area where we will help build out a fixed wireless solution, 6 – 8 megabits down. It is an exciting project with a particular utility.”
To get the true benefits of 5G, however, a lot of spectrum is needed, said Sabatino. Maybe 100 megahertz of spectrum. As a matter of course, he suggests that the FCC expand the CBRS up the dial to include the 4.2 GHz band, which would add 700 megahertz.
“You need a big swath of spectrum. [3.5-4.2 GHz] is the most interesting piece of spectrum out there right now. It is a good band for transmission. If you want to get households involved. If you go over 18 feet, you can use high-gain antennas,” he said.
Sabatino believes building and venue owners will be interested in using CBRS to provide but fixed data to their tenants or patrons.
“Owners of multi-dwelling units don’t have to let Verizon or Comcast and AT&T into their buildings to offer service,” he said. “The building owner can provide service to the whole building, including IPTV, internet, home phone and other wireless services to their tenants, connectivity.”
CBRS may even provide competition to the carriers as utilities will have a great opportunity to mount antennas on all their vertical real estate, he added.
ExteNet Systems, Inland Cellular Prepare CBRS-Ready Fixed Wireless Service
Another company that is moving forward on CBRS is ExteNet Systems, which has announced a field trial of a FCC Part 96-ready, CBRS LTE fixed wireless network with Inland Cellular, which serves southeastern Washington and north central Idaho. ExteNet initiated the field trial for Inland in September 2018 and commercial service rollout is currently targeted for early 2019.
“At Inland Cellular we are constantly evaluating ways to advance our customer experience and provide our customer base with enhanced service offerings. Applying the CBRS use case to our existing infrastructure seemed like a natural progression for us. We are excited to work with ExteNet on this initial trial and eventual commercial CBRS service rollout for our customers,” said Nathan Weis, CEO of Inland Cellular in a press release.
ExteNet’s virtualized LTE Evolved Packet Core (EPC) solution, bundled with Nokia’s Radio Access Network (RAN) equipment, has served as the foundation for Inland’s 4G LTE service throughout its coverage area since 2016. Inland is now leveraging its existing mobile infrastructure to conduct a field trial with ExteNet on the 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum to improve customer experience and meet demand connectivity and increased network capacity.
“For many rural service providers, finding a modern solution approach that is financially viable, operationally manageable and still carrier-grade, is a major challenge and often the barrier to rolling out the latest services,” said Jason Osborne, vice president of Business Development and Strategic Initiatives for ExteNet Systems.
ExteNet’s LTE service offering is an alternative to more traditional fiber or coaxial fixed broadband solutions, especially in expansive geographies or smaller communities. The 3GPP-compliant platform can serve as the foundation for enhanced communication services including LTE mobility, roaming, voice over LTE (VoLTE) and wireless enterprise while providing broadband speeds to amplify user experience.