We are on the precipice of seeing the vision of the CBRS Alliance and its members come into being. And, that vision has gone far in discrediting the band’s naysayers. For instance, even while we were revisiting the 3.5 GHz rules, skeptics would actually tell me that we shouldn’t take 5G offerings into consideration, because they would never come to this band. But those of you in this room had something different to say. Last month’s announcement that you are working on 5G CBRS specifications, called CBRS Alliance Release 3, proved a lot of people wrong. It is expected that these specifications, which will include coexistence requirements to ensure interoperability between LTE and 5G networks in the 3.5 GHz and other bands, will be completed in the fourth quarter of 2019, enabling 5G in this band in 2020. This will likely be the first U.S. mid-band 5G play.
CBRS Status Update
Left on the Commission’s plate to get CBRS fully operational is concluding the review and approval of the Spectrum Access Systems, or SAS, and Environmental Sensing Capability systems, commonly referred to as the ESC. As many of you know, I have been working with the leadership of the CBRS Alliance to help make sure this process stays on track. While some steps experienced unfortunate delays and this process has taken far longer than anyone would have liked, it appears to be nearing the end.
Originally, I expressed grave concerns that the ESC review process was falling behind. I must admit that I never expected it to leapfrog ahead of the SAS testing and development process. But, the three “first wave” ESC applicants completed the laboratory testing, and just yesterday, after reviewing the lab reports, the Commission staff approved these systems. These operators are basically good to go once they get their specific deployments approved through the established registration system, which the Commission is committed to completing quickly, and as soon as there is an operational SAS.
Unfortunately, the SAS testing is still in progress. In fact, tranche 3 testing is expected to be completed today at some point. Hopefully, the representative from NTIA, your next speaker, has some good news for us. As soon as tranche 3 testing is complete, it is my understanding that the SAS applicants will get a preliminary report in five days and the final test report in 30 days. Once the Commission gets the reports and sends them to DOD and NTIA, we will need to approve them quickly so that the initial commercial deployment phase can proceed very soon, hopefully within a few weeks of today. I will continue to push to make sure the FCC does its part. Frankly, all parties have been working closely together throughout this process, so the FCC and federal agencies should be able to expedite final review.
While I am on the topic, people have been contemplating how these various systems designed to facilitate the 3.5 GHz sharing model and protect Navy radar incumbents would be financed and maintained. We got an indication, last month, when one SAS operator announced a monthly $2.25 charge per household for fixed wireless services, which covers the fixed wireless tower and the consumer’s receiver. Other offerings, such as private networks or Internet of Things, may have a different pricing model. While other SAS providers have not gone on the record, $2.25 per month seems quite profitable, which is not a bad thing per se. In fact, I happily will defend American capitalism and a firm generating profits against any critics. However, one must expect that competition among SAS operators will alter this threshold somewhat. With six existing “first wave” SAS applicants and four “second wave” applications still to be processed, it wouldn’t be surprising to me to see prices significantly decline over time. Having the agencies start considering the second wave SAS and two additional ESC systems seems all the more appropriate.
In sum, the CBRS industry is doing what it needs to do to bring these frequencies into use. You have the business plans, the standards and specifications, the equipment, and clearly the drive to get this all done. You are even pushing ahead with 5G and ensuring compatibility with the LTE systems that will be first to market. Besides the work to be completed on the sharing systems, the U.S. government still has more work to do on our end.
This is an excerpt of the remarks of FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly before the CBRS Alliance, April 30, in Charlotte, North Carolina.