2020 was a good year for the CBRS Alliance with the successful completion of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) auction and the growth of its membership by 40 percent. This year has begun with a name change to the OnGo Alliance and presentation of a virtual conference. Dave Wright, president of the alliance, spoke with AGL Senior Editor J. Sharpe Smith about the quickly evolving organization and the increasing applications for OnGo technology.
eDigest: Tell me about the mission of the OnGo Alliance.
Wright: We are primarily a technical organization and a market-awareness organization, as well as a source of certification. We fill in any technical gaps. 3GPP does the LTE and 5G baseline specifications, which were designed for exclusively licensed spectrum bands. We’re making some modifications that make it work well in a shared-spectrum situation like CBRS.
We certify OnGo radio access equipment and infrastructure equipment. It won’t be very long before we start certifying spectrum access system (SAS) functionalities and the coexistence management layer.
We’re doing a tremendous amount of market awareness work, helping people understand what these use cases are and why they are relevant to a corporate CIO, a healthcare IT manager or the warehouse manager at the Port of Los Angeles.
eDigest: Why did you change your name from the CBRS Alliance to the OnGo Alliance?
Wright: Until now, we’ve really been focused on operationalizing and commercializing the CBRS in the United States. However, we found that much of the work that we have done to make that possible is really applicable to cellular operations using 3GPP technologies in shared-spectrum bands, whether it’s CBRS or a locally licensed band somewhere in Europe. It really doesn’t matter.
Last fall, working with our members, we decided to expand the mission of the alliance, and now our focus is on optimizing 3GPP and future wireless technology in shared-spectrum bands globally.
eDigest: The OnGo Alliance hosted its virtual event, OnGo Forward – CBRS, 5G and Beyond, in February. What did you hope to achieve at that event?
Wright: We held the event in February to kick-start our new name and focus. We featured presentations on several different deployment examples at the event. Representatives of the City of Tucson shared great stories about what they’re doing to provide better connectivity throughout the city, particularly for education and distance-learning applications, which the age of COVID has really brought home for all of us. Roaring Forks School District spoke about the same sorts of applications, as well as some in-building and school bus-type of deployments. Ericsson talked about one of their smart factory deployments. Then we had a whole section that was about neutral-host, in-building cellular coverage with CBRS, which is in public spaces, as well as in corporate office space environments.
eDigest: Will OnGo systems play a role in closing the digital divide and homework gaps?
Wright: There is a long list of schools using OnGo systems for connectivity in education. A lot of people have been lobbying the FCC to allow offsite connectivity to be covered by the E Rate Program, [which provides funding for telecom and information services]. We are encouraged by that. In terms of the digital divide, WISPs [wireless internet service providers], which are a major constituency within the alliance, are driving a lot of activity around fixed wireless access, providing economical coverage for rural broadband. That is huge. Every cable and mobile operator has an initiative for closing the digital divide. We have many members that are involved, such as Midco, a tier-two cable player, which is putting CBRS base stations on the sides of grain elevators to provide really good data throughput speeds to residences.
eDigest: There is momentum growing in the area of smart factories, which depend on high-speed, low-latency private networks. How does the OnGo technology fit into that area?
Wright: We think the industrial applications are a slam-dunk. We don’t position OnGo as something that will replace Wi-Fi. It will continue to play an important role carrying both residential and office traffic. However, factory floors, which have electronics and reflective surfaces, can challenge Wi-Fi. Particularly, some of the early private cellular activity occurred in shipping ports, freight yards and airports in logistics and transportation applications. They have very real business needs that they need solutions for. Private cellular is a slam-dunk.
eDigest: People perceive a competition between licensed and unlicensed technology. Is there?
Wright: Cellular will not kill Wi-Fi, and Wi-Fi will not kill cellular. We need both. We need more connectivity. The good news is that integration is getting closer. The latest generations of Wi-Fi are introducing OFDMA [orthogonal frequency-division multiple access], which was traditionally a cellular technology, and cellular is looking more like Wi-Fi with small cells and in-building coverage. We will see more merging of these alien worlds, and that is where OnGo and CBRS find themselves, between those worlds.
eDigest: Is there a future for the CBRS-style three-tier licensing scheme in other spectrum bands?
Wright: I think it’s a good model, because it gives assurances to those people who need it and are willing to pay for it. It also makes spectrum available for all kinds of innovative use cases that you get with this General Access Authority (GAA) opportunistic layer, where there’s really no barriers to entry. You can decide tomorrow if you’re going to set up a CBRS network. Contact us, and you’ll be off and running. That’s somewhat unheard of in the cellular realm. For many private use cases and enterprise use cases, opportunistic GAA is perfect. We will be looking to see those aspects of CBRS replicated in other bands in the United States and globally.