NFL getting into the CBRS game, files for proof-of-concept testing at stadiums

The National Football League looks to be getting ready to deploy a system at each of the NFL team stadiums in the U.S. that ultimately will operate in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band.  

The CBRS band is not yet ready for prime time, as the unique spectrum-sharing system in the U.S. 3.5 GHz band is still being finalized. Plus, the FCC is taking another stab at the rules for the band, mainly as it relates to the size of the geographic licenses for the Priority Access License (PAL) portion of the band.

In the meantime, the NFL has filed paperwork with the FCC to gain authorization to use two 20-megahertz-wide channels at each of the NFL stadiums for proofs-of-concept and interference testing. The intention is to ultimately replace the UHF-based communications system now in place in NFL stadiums; the system currently enables coaches to communicate with other coaches and for coaches to communicate with players during televised NFL games.

The NFL said its system is under development and not yet ready for licensing, but “ultimately, when fully developed and tested, it is anticipated that this communications system would operate in the Part 96 CBRS either as a Priority Access or a General Access use,” the application's narrative states.

A lot of industry stakeholders expect that the General Authorized Access portion of the band can be put to use this year if all goes as planned, with the PAL section to follow next year.

The OFDM system the NFL is proposing will use two contiguous channels, 3655-3675 MHz and 3675-3695 MHz. They anticipate 80 transmitters will be required per stadium; all transmitters will be operated entirely within the NFL stadiums and therefore can benefit from a high degree of attenuation from the stadium structures.

The NFL's Special Temporary Authority (STA) application was submitted the same week the CBRS Alliance met for its second annual all-members meeting in McLean, Virginia, where it unveiled the new OnGo brand and a certification program modeled largely after what the Wi-Fi Alliance has done with Wi-Fi Certified.

RELATED: CBRS Alliance launches OnGo brand, certification program for U.S. 3.5 GHz band

Sports stadiums have been popular venues for Wi-Fi and DAS deployments, and they're often held up as prime examples for CBRS deployments, where stadium owners or managers could deploy a private LTE network to enhance customers' experiences. But the examples usually did not go as far as to mention NFL players on the field using CBRS to communicate with coaches. 

The NFL is seeking a start date for its testing phase of June 1, ending by Dec. 1, 2018. Testing would begin immediately upon grant of the STA request.