Google-led SAS ready to test with 3.5 GHz hardware vendors for CBRS band

Further evidence that the 3.5 GHz space is getting ready to rock and roll in the U.S., Alphabet’s Access team has announced two major milestones: The first end-to-end Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) demonstration with 3.5 GHz mobile devices and a new Trusted Tester Citizens Broadband Service Device (CBSD) Program, which will help hardware vendors test their equipment with Access' Spectrum Access System (SAS).

Google, an Alphabet company, has been involved in the formation of the 3.5 CBRS band, also called the Innovation Band, from the beginning, participating in the standards process through the Wireless Innovation Forum (WinnForum) and creating an SAS that will coordinate users in the 3.5 GHz band. Google, Federated Wireless, CTIA, Comsearch, Amdocs, Key Bridge and Sony Electronics were given conditional approval by the FCC in December to act as SAS administrators.

Besides the SAS, the system requires a robust hardware ecosystem and deployment of wireless networks to make it all work.

“It’s been critical for us, from the start, not just to make sure the spectrum becomes available but that the entire ecosystem is built up” so when certification happens, everyone is set to deploy, said Mathew Varghese, product lead for mobility at Google.

The demonstration with actual mobile devices used phones operating with the Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 Gigabit LTE modem, Qualcomm’s first Snapdragon modem for the CBRS band in the U.S. and Spreadtrum SOC chipsets, as well as MiFi devices from Juni/Infomark.

It will take time to get widespread CBRS in all the handsets, but the MiFi devices will provide a bridge in the interim, Varghese said. The 3.5 GHz spectrum band is used in other countries, but the way it’s set up in the U.S. for commercial purposes involves a unique sharing system.

As for the network hardware side of things, the Trusted Tester program is designed to help hardware vendors—those who are supplying the transmitters, receivers, base stations and the like—test their equipment with the Access SAS. The SAS protects incumbents, some of which are U.S. military radar users, to make sure they’re not adversely affected by new entrants in the spectrum.

The first batch of pre-testers include Nokia, Ericsson, ZTE, Ruckus Wireless, Juni and Sercomm, representing a variety of hardware suppliers, from small companies to large and indoor and outdoor implementations.

Now equipment providers can sign up to run a series of self-service tests to make sure base station equipment works with the Access SAS, which communicates with radios and provisions the spectrum in a way that protects incumbents.

What’s driving Google’s interest in the band? Every other time spectrum has been made available in the U.S., it’s usually been made available to one group to do one thing: Unlicensed to do essentially Wi-Fi, or carrier spectrum to be used by an established operator.

“This is the first time we’ve had a band that anybody can go into and they can put any kind of technology they want,” according to Preston Marshall, principal architect at Access. “The technologies will be competing in this band, the different applications will compete in this band. That competition is going to create a very, very rich ecosystem for innovation, for new ideas. It could never happen if people spent $30 billion or $20 billion buying spectrum.”

Google itself can use the 3.5 GHz; it has to connect to an SAS but the idea is to make it exceptionally easy for entities to use the spectrum as long as they abide by the rules. Large venues, like concert halls, sports arenas, theme parks, shopping malls and enterprises can use the spectrum to deploy private LTE networks without spending a lot of money to lease spectrum.

RELATED: Nokia, Alphabet, Qualcomm take CBRS to the racetrack

To demonstrate what can be done, Nokia, Access and Qualcomm recently staged a demo at the Las Vegas Motor Speedway to show how the CBRS spectrum can be used to host an LTE network and deliver 360-degree 4K video streaming from inside the race cars traveling around the track at over 180 mph.

Nokia brought the 3.5 GHz radios, Alphabet/Access delivered on the SAS and Qualcomm Technologies’ LTE modem provided the in-car connectivity for the trial, which streamed video in real time using YouTube Live Events.