Charter, Federated tout CBRS momentum, but T-Mobile worries over 5G suitability

DALLAS—The 3.5 GHz CBRS band continues to generate a significant amount of interest in the wireless industry, but, as always, the devil is in the details. Some companies, like cable company Charter Communications, are moving full steam ahead on using the 3.5 GHz band for small cells and LTE. Others, like T-Mobile, are eyeing 3.5 GHz for 5G.

Karri Kuoppamaki, VP of network technology development and strategy for T-Mobile, explained that the 3.5 GHz CBRS band offers a significant number of opportunities. But he said he’s concerned that the spectrum-sharing rules for the band might make it harder for T-Mobile to successfully deploy 5G into the band. “It’s the band with the most potential,” he said here at the FierceWireless Next-Gen Wireless Networks Summit. “3.5 GHz seems to be a golden opportunity.”

Indeed, a wide range of countries around the world are moving forward with plans to allocate the 3.5 GHz band for 5G services, creating the potential for a de facto global standard for 5G spectrum. However, Kuoppamaki noted, the United States is considering a spectrum-sharing scenario for 3.5 GHz licenses that could make it more difficult for companies like T-Mobile to deploy 5G service in 3.5 GHz on a nationwide basis. T-Mobile has said it will start its 5G deployment in 2019, in part in its 600 MHz spectrum.

Specifically, the FCC is currently considering licensing rules around the 3.5 GHz CBRS band that would allocate spectrum licenses on a much smaller geographic basis, and on a much shorter timespan, than cellular carriers typically use. Kuoppamaki said such rules could stymie a nationwide 5G deployment in the band—though he noted the FCC is still considering rules for the CBRS band and the licensing situation may change. He also said that ultimately T-Mobile would look to use spectrum in whatever form it is available. Indeed, the carrier has filed to test services in the 3.5 GHz band.

While Kuoppamaki voiced some concerns about CBRS, Charter’s Craig Cowden, the company’s SVP of wireless technology, said the cable operator hopes to use the 3.5 GHz band in part to offer wireless services on licensed small cells. Such a service would allow Charter to offload traffic from its forthcoming MVNO service onto its CBRS small cells. “We are moving from Wi-Fi-first to small cell-first,” Cowden said.

Cowden also voiced support for the spectrum-sharing scenario the FCC is considering for the CBRS band. “It’s essential to how the U.S. can deal with spectrum shortages,” he said, noting that the sharing model could well be replicated in other countries around the world.

Charter has made no secret of its interest in the CBRS band as a way to supplement the MVNO offering the company has said it will launch through Verizon next year.

For his part, Iyad Tarazi said that his company continues to see momentum behind CBRS. Tarazi is the CEO of Federated Wireless, which is one of several companies looking to provide SAS services for the CBRS band—SAS providers will essentially operate a database of 3.5 GHz users in order to manage and oversee spectrum sharing.

Tarazi said that Federated Wireless to date has conducted fully 30 CBRS trials, and counts 20 different vendors that have built products that work with its SAS database. He added that there are hundreds of different devices that have connected into Federated’s SAS system.