FCC approves initial commercial deployments in CBRS

The FCC’s Wireless Telecommunications Bureau (WTB) and the Office of Engineering and Technology (OET) released a public notice today saying that the Spectrum Access Systems (SASs) operated by Google, Federated Wireless, CommScope, Amdocs and Sony have passed the commission’s SAS lab testing requirements, and are approved to begin their initial commercial deployments (ICD) for Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS).

The FCC’s reviews were done in consultation with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA).

The CBRS ecosystem has marked quite a few milestones, including Band 48 support in the latest iPhone 11 released last week and the agenda item for the FCC’s September 26 open meeting setting a June 2020 auction for the Priority Access License (PAL) portion of the band. The notice today relates to the unlicensed portion of the band, known as General Authorized Access (GAA).

Today’s announcement is probably as significant a milestone as there’s been since the ecosystem emerged in 2012. “This is a big one,” CBRS Alliance President Dave Wright told FierceWireless. “We’re now able to offer commercial services in the band,” authorizing the five SAS entities to begin the operations. They will still need to make a filing with point of contact and other details, but once that’s filed, it’s go time.

The initial commercial deployments will run a minimum of 30 days. After that, the SAS administrators will file reports on their ICD experiences, and they can continue to offer ICD services while those are being reviewed.

“It’s technically been real for a long time of course, but it’s commercially real now,” he said.

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The CBRS Alliance will be highlighting a number of use cases during an event in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday.

Mobile operators can use CBRS to augment their existing capacity, and there are opportunities for them and Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) to offer fixed wireless to residential and business customers. Cable operators are using CBRS to deploy their own cellular footprints so they can capture more traffic on their own networks versus relying on MVNO relationships, and there are a number of industrial IoT use cases where an enterprise or other entity can deploy a private LTE network.

The CBRS industry has been geared up for quite some time to meet the pent-up demand for the LTE services that the CBRS band enables.

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“The greenlight received from the FCC for initial commercial deployments of CBRS shared spectrum is the culmination of a great deal of focus, commitment and collaboration to bring about change in how spectrum is delivered,” said Iyad Tarazi, CEO of Federated Wireless, in a statement. “We can now expand our nation’s broadband capabilities and deliver on the promise of affordable spectrum needed for 4G and 5G to enable the Internet of Things, develop private LTE networks, and bring much-needed spectrum to rural areas, among other uses. This is a big win for service providers, enterprises and consumers and sets the stage for true innovation in wireless communications.”

Many other parts of the world already are using 3.5 GHz spectrum for 5G; the CBRS Alliance expects to complete its 5G specifications in the fourth quarter of this year.