FCC’s O’Rielly says CBRS power limits could be increased in future

In a recent FierceWireless virtual event, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly alluded to the possibility that Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) rules could change in the future to allow for higher-powered devices (CBSDs). And analysts at Mobile Experts say this possibility could increase the value of CBRS priority access licenses (PALs). 

Michael O'Rielly Headshot
FCC Commissioner O'Rielly

O’Rielly said the FCC would have an opportunity to look at the power limits going forward. 

Currently, the FCC has approved two classes of CBRS access points: Category A with a maximum equivalent isotropically radiated power (EIRP) of 30 dBm/10 MHz and; and Category B with a maximum EIRP of 47 dBm/10 MHz.

AT&T has made an argument for a Category C device with a maximum allowable EIRP up to 62 dBm/10 MHz. But there are some stakeholders in the wireless industry who oppose increased power limits because they’re concerned about interference problems.

O’Rielly said he’s gotten “commitments from the Department of Defense at the highest levels” that as the Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrators start collecting data about usage in the CBRS spectrum, then the power limits could be re-examined. “We’d be able to re-evaluate and very likely increase the power limits in a respectful way to not interfere with the DoD side and other incumbent spectrum users,” said O’Rielly. “We recognize that more power is going to be needed to get more reach and to fulfill all the needs. We have to do so in a thoughtful way, and that’s what I’m working toward.”

PAL valuations

The prospect of increased power limits for CBSDs could be a factor in increasing the valuation of PALs in the upcoming July PALs auction, according to Mobile Experts analyst Kyung Mun in a new report.

The CBRS auctions in July will be followed by C-band spectrum auctions in December. The CBRS spectrum is sandwiched between the 280 MHz of the C-band (3.70-3.98 GHz) - which will be auctioned at the end of 2020 - and other mid-band spectrum that could potentially be allocated for mobile wireless in the future (3100-3550 MHz).

Mobile Experts chart

“Based on this strategic band location, we believe future rule changes for PAL may be possible to support higher power CBSDs as proposed by AT&T last year,” writes Mun in the new Mobile Experts report entitled “CBRS PAL Spectrum Valuation Redux.”

RELATED: A variety of operators are likely to bid in the CBRS auction: Special Report on CBRS

If the FCC were to change the power-limit rules, then “PAL licenses may become even more valuable considering that operators can aggregate multiple carriers across CBRS PAL and the potential mid-band in the 3100-3550 MHz in the future,” states the report.