What is CBRS … and What It Means for Your Building

CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) is the wireless spectrum from 3.55 to 3.70 GHz – and mobile operators paid $4.5 billion in the recently concluded FCC auctions for their slices. Spectrum is scarce and expensive, right? Here’s the kicker – for enterprises, it’s FREE. That’s right: while mobile operators spend billions on Priority Access Licenses to supplement their outdoor networks, enterprises can reliably use the free General Authorized Access spectrum for indoor private networks. This is great news!

Let’s compare CBRS to Wi-Fi, which is also free to use. No one needs to apply for a license or pay fees to build a Wi-Fi network or to use one, because Wi-Fi uses the unlicensed ISM bands at 2.4 and 5 GHz. Unlicensed is convenient, but when a neighbor or business next door sets up shop and their Wi-Fi interferes with yours, you have no recourse. And because Wi-Fi is popular, so are Wi-Fi hacking tools. It is a cat-and-mouse game, constantly securing your Wi-Fi to stay one step ahead.

How Does CBRS Work?

CBRS operates on a three-tiered spectrum access system (SAS) to manage the spectrum efficiently and prevent interference between users. These tiers are:

  • Incumbent Access: This top tier includes federal incumbents and existing satellite users who have priority access to the spectrum.
  • Priority Access Licenses (PALs): The second tier consists of users who can purchase licenses through an FCC auction, providing them with protection from the lowest tier but not from incumbent users.
  • General Authorized Access (GAA): The third tier is open to anyone with a certified CBRS device. GAA users must accept interference from higher tiers but can use the spectrum when it’s not occupied by them.

It is a new approach to spectrum management: a lightly regulated approach somewhere between the unregulated, anything-goes world of Wi-Fi, and the tightly regulated, mobile operator controlled world of 4G and 5G. CBRS wireless networks communicate with a Spectrum Access System (SAS), which keeps track of who is using what and what remains unused, to gain access. As an operating model, CBRS combines the freedom and simplicity of Wi-Fi with the security and control of a mobile network. Device manufacturers started incorporating CBRS support in 2019, and here’s a list of end-user devices, which includes the Apple iPhone 11, Samsung Galaxy S10, and Google Pixel 3.

So, what can enterprises and property owners/managers do with this free CBRS spectrum?

Private LTE/5G Networks

Building your own mobile network, under your management and control, should be strongly considered for mission-critical applications and Industry 4.0 Transformation programs. Examples include:

  • Low-latency industrial automation for manufacturing
  • IoT sensors and controllers
  • POS (point-of-sale) and mobile kiosks for retail
  • Communications for security and building personnel
  • Secure connectivity (for staff, patients, and equipment) in hospitals and clinics
  • A separate network for staff and back-office operations in hospitality venues

Why implement this with LTE/5G instead of Wi-Fi? 5G and LTE are carrier-grade protocols with mobility, quality of service (QoS), and security in its DNA. Wi-Fi is a wireless Ethernet protocol that was not originally designed with these in mind. Seamless roaming and hand-offs between base stations are what 5G is designed for. 5G also implements QoS at a per-flow level, with multiple flows per device. As for security, Wi-Fi packet sniffers can be downloaded for free and installed on any mobile phone, legally. Getting a hold of an LTE sniffer, on the other hand, is a very different story. For your mission-critical network, the fewer risks there are, and the more control you have, the better.

Neutral Host Networks

While the CBRS spectrum itself is free for enterprises, building and operating a private network is not. Is the initial Capex outlay too big for the business case to handle? Is the business staffed to maintain another network? A wide range of partnerships, out-sourcing, and revenue-sharing models are available that provide flexible funding options.

Partner with SOLiD to Upgrade your Building Connectivity

SOLiD has the experience, industry knowledge, and technology to evaluate, advise, plan, and implement a complete connectivity solution for your enterprise. SOLiD solutions are modular and scalable, so they are obsolescence-resistant, and you can make incremental changes without rip-and-replace.

Get the right partner to implement the always-on-everywhere mobile service you need to compete. Call SOLiD at (888) 409-9997 or email us at info@SOLID.com, and learn more about what CBRS can do for you.