Demand for companies with experience in providing wireless solutions for the 3.5 GHz spectrum is heating up as this spectrum band looks increasingly set to become the global preferred spectrum for 5G. The band has been touted worldwide as a strong contender for 5G, with the GSMA last year describing it as offering the “ideal opportunity” to meet the increasing demands for data and coverage. The European Commission has marked the 3.5 GHz frequency as a priority for 5G, and major operators have already announced trials in 2018 using the spectrum.
For Alpha Wireless, an antenna solutions provider with more than 10 years of experience in the 3.5 GHz spectrum, the road ahead looks bright – and busy.
“The 3.5 GHz spectrum offers a significantly lower cost of ownership in many jurisdictions compared to typical mobile wireless spectrum, so it’s a logical place to launch 5G,” Alpha Wireless CEO and Chairman Fergal Lawlor said. “With rural subscriber densities, low-cost spectrum is essential for profitable service offering. In urban settings, 3.5 GHz relatively, short propagation characteristics makes it ideally suited for densification and fill-in without interfering with adjacent access points.
“Alpha Wireless has spent the last decade developing and supplying products for 3.5 GHz so we’re well equipped to provide exactly what mobile operators need with 5G around the corner,” he added.
In the United States alone, an EJL Wireless Research report recently showed that there was an 84 percent jump in shipments of outdoor small cell antennas in 2017, with Alpha Wireless leading the pack as the top vendor.
With a 75-percent increase forecast for the current year, Lawlor says its’ clear that demand is far from slowing down.
“Alpha Wireless’ 3.5 GHz product range covers all types of applications from standard macro coverage to small cell for densification in urban environments. Our solution set includes innovations in beamforming to enhance performance and all-in-one small cells to provide concealment and speed installation. We know we’re in a great position to give the market what it needs,” Lawlor said. “More than that, we’re also looking at what the market will need in the future. At Alpha Wireless, innovation is a key focus. We’re constantly looking to learn more about the challenges arising in the industry, so we can extend our product range and provide even better solutions for our customers.”
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.
Earlier this month, companies and vendors from across the wireless industry came together at Verizon’s facility in Irving, Texas to test 4G LTE technology over the CBRS (Citizen Band Radio Spectrum) spectrum. After the successful initial trials last year, Corning, Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Google, Nokia and Qualcomm Technologies are all collaborating in end-to-end system testing.
The CBRS band is made up of 150 MHz of 3.5 GHz shared spectrum, which until now has been primarily used by the federal government for radar systems. The FCC authorized shared use of the spectrum with wireless small cells in 2016. By using LTE Advanced technology, carrier aggregation and the spectrum access system (SAS), Verizon will be able to use this shared spectrum to add capacity to its network.
The end-to-end system tests are designed to accomplish several goals on the path to widespread commercial deployment:
Corning provided a SpiderCloud Enterprise RAN composed of a Services Node and SCRN-330 Radio Nodes. Ericsson’s Radio System solution is comprised of 4×4 MIMO, 4x20MHz Carrier Aggregation, including CBRS spectrum delivered over infrastructure aggregating Ericsson’s outdoor micro base station (Radio 2208 units) with the indoor B48 Radio Dot System in the same baseband (5216 units). Nokia provided FlexiZone Multiband Indoor BTS, FlexiZone Multiband Outdoor BTS and FlexiZone Controller.
In addition, participants in this ecosystem have set up private LTE sites which are using CBRS spectrum. Private LTE networks are being engineered to meet the needs of enterprise customers who want greater control over their LTE solutions including private on-site servers, control over access to their designated LTE network, as well as increased throughput and reduced latency through dedicated backhaul.
The end-to-end system testing, which began in February and will continue over the next several weeks, has provided actionable insights and have significantly advanced CBRS spectrum deployment feasibility.
“The promise of the CBRS band and enabling the use of wider swaths of spectrum will make a big impact on carrying wireless data in the future. These trials are critical to stress test the full system,” said Bill Stone, VP technology development and planning for Verizon. “There are many players in the CBRS ecosystem and these successful trials ensure all the various parts perform together as an end-to-end system for our customers’ benefit. We want to ensure devices efficiently use CBRS spectrum and that the new components effectively interact with the rest of the network.”
At the conclusion of this testing, equipment will be submitted for certification through the FCC. Following that deployment can then begin. Both commercial deployment of LTE on CBRS spectrum and devices that can access the CBRS spectrum are expected to begin in 2018.
CommScope, Ericsson Complete SAS Interoperability Testing for CBRS
To help ensure their readiness for commercial deployment in the CBRS wireless spectrum, CommScope and Ericsson have successfully completed interoperability testing of their equipment. The testing is one of the first successful interoperability tests using the Wireless Innovation Forum’s release 1.2 specifications.
“CommScope’s team of architects, developers and engineers have been building an industry-leading SAS for nearly two years,” said Tom Gravely, vice president of research and development, Network Solutions, CommScope. “Completion of interoperability testing with a major radio equipment provider such as Ericsson validates our SAS design and readies us for commercial deployment.”
The interoperability test confirmed that CommScope’s Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Ericsson’s radio infrastructure with CBRS spectrum support will work together as part of a CBRS network. The rigorous SAS–Citizens Broadband Radio Service Device (CBSD) interoperability testing used a battery of scenarios to verify that both products meet governmental requirements and industry protocols, as well as CommScope’s and Ericsson’s respective quality standards.
“Ericsson offers a comprehensive portfolio of CBRS network solutions that will help operators of all sizes deploy in this spectrum quickly and successfully,” said Paul Challoner, vice president of Network Product Solutions, Ericsson. “Additional milestones need to be reached for CBRS to become a reality, but we are pleased to complete interoperability testing with CommScope as part of the developmental process.”
In a CBRS network, a SAS and CBSD work together to ensure that the appropriate wireless signals are transmitted and received between the core network and end-user devices, while managing interference. An Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) works with the SAS to identify the wireless signals of incumbent users to avoid interference from CBSDs. CommScope is one of four ESC operators conditionally approved by the FCC to provide SAS and ESC services.
December 8, 2016
Like it or not, evolutionary and revolutionary changes are afoot within the wireless industry. From megatrends which have pervasive tidal wave effects to sector-specific trends that have smaller ripple effects, these changes will present seemingly contradictory implications for the in-building ecosystem.
As organizations plan for 2017 and beyond, they must focus the right groups on the right things at the right times.
This multi-part series examines five key trends and how they’ll impact the in-building wireless ecosystem in 2017 and beyond. Related, we will forecast when each trend will be felt by the industry and advise which key functional areas (R&D, Marketing, Sales) should be focused on it in 2017.
First up was 5G. Next, it’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).
Using Shared Spectrum to Enable Others to Connect to the Mobile Core Network
Earlier this year, the FCC opened 150 megahertz of spectrum (3550-3700 MHz) for commercial use. Known as CBRS, the band is located partly in the 3GPP TDD Band 42, and partly in TDD Band 43.
Its backers, which include Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Google, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ruckus (part of Brocade), envision an industry ecosystem that leverages shared spectrum to deliver LTE-based solutions on a massive scale and serve as a catalyst for 5G. Simply stated, CBRS represents a new frontier of change.
CBRS addresses – among other things – coverage and capacity indoors as well as outdoors in dense urban environments. Notably, it enables enterprises, neutral host service providers and large venue owners to become mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and deploy carrier-grade LTE networks on which mobile subscribers can roam. It’s a win-win-win: unresolved and underserved venues and locations benefit from having wireless service; subscribers benefit from a high quality of service experience; and carriers theoretically benefit from a significantly cost-effective shared network, which provides an expanded network footprint.
As pragmatic as CBRS sounds, there exists several important obstacles. First, carrier approvals remain forthcoming to connect these networks to the core network. In addition, commercial Spectrum Allocation Server (SAS) administrators have yet to be appointed by the FCC to prioritize, assign and manage frequencies licensed within the 3.5 GHz band. Last, CBRS chipsets must be incorporated in smartphones. When the first carrier approves, expect other carriers to follow suit. Meanwhile, SAS vendors are currently in interoperability testing. Look for CBRS chipsets in smartphones as soon as six months but more likely 18 months.
A Key to Unlock and Address In-Building Wireless Markets
Although clear answers do not currently exist, CBRS has the potential to reshape parts of the in-building wireless ecosystem landscape in profound ways:
· Venue owners will be able to control their own cellular destiny and no longer depend on the carriers or third parties to bring service to the building. Instead, the venue owner will pay a nominal annual subscription to operate their own private CBRS network in return for possible revenue sharing from the operators in the form of modest roaming fees.
· The neutral host model will be reimagined as no longer the owner and operator of multiple networks at a single location, but, instead, as a consolidator of many CBRS networks into the core networks.
· DAS and Small Cell OEMs will innovate products to deploy CBRS networks indoors and outdoors. CBRS small cells will feed DAS head ends and use the distribution efficiencies of DAS for indoor deployments in certain enterprise venues that require multi-operator support. Meanwhile, small cells will evolve from single-operator to multi-operator, and offer the value proposition of low total cost of ownership and ease of deployment to address smaller enterprise venues as well as dense urban outdoor applications.
· Lines will continue to blur between in-building cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks including infrastructure sharing as well as convergence of small cell radios and access points.
· Systems integrators and installers will be in demand to deploy and maintain equipment to meet demand within unresolved and underserved market segments such as the Tier 2 (also known as the Enterprise or Middleprise).
Timeframes and Stakeholder Focus
CBRS is still nascent. However, with strong support from ecosystem stakeholders that represent carriers, the core network, smartphone chipsets, neutral hosts and OEMs, it’s likely that CBRS is poised to accelerate in the United States and begin to have an impact on the in-building wireless industry in about three years from now. Expect other countries to also adopt the shared spectrum model.
Therefore, of the key functional areas within in-building ecosystem organizations, R&D should be well engaged in 2017 to develop and execute on product roadmaps to support CBRS and/or interoperability testing. Marketing should be sharing the roadmap with the analyst community but not yet promoting among the distribution channel.
In summary, CBRS is going to usher evolutionary and revolutionary change that can manifest as either opportunity or threat to participants within the in-building ecosystem depending on how they position themselves. Will your organization be prepared?
Next trend: Public-Safety Communications and e911 Location.
Mike Collado helps companies win mindshare and capture marketshare. He is a Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20 and former Vice President of Marketing at SOLiD. He also serves as a strategic advisor for both industry and nonprofit organizations and is an author, blogger and frequent speaker at wireless industry events. Contact him at email@example.com.