NTIA concludes CBRS lab tests for five SAS vendors

Besides approving the Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC) of three vendors, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) this week announced that it has wrapped up the laboratory testing stage for five Spectrum Access System (SAS) vendors.

That doesn’t mean the government-run test process is over—NTIA engineers in Boulder, Colorado, are now working to craft test reports with a target of providing them to the SAS vendors in June for their submission to the FCC.

But, as NTIA said in a blog post, “the light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter by the day” for the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) community.

NTIA noted that its engineers and scientists in the Office of Spectrum Management and the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) have worked closely through each stage with their counterparts in government as well as the private sector. 

RELATED: Google, Federated, CommScope get OK for ESCs in CBRS band

On Monday, the FCC, in coordination with NTIA and Department of Defense (DOD), approved the ESC capabilities of three vendors—Google, Federated Wireless and CommScope—based on their updated applications that reflect conformance testing performed by ITS. 

NTIA didn’t identify the five SAS vendors in its blog, and a spokesperson said it had no comment on specific vendors.

RELATED: CommScope running in SAS pack dominated by Google, Federated Wireless

CommScope confirmed it is one of the five; it won AT&T's SAS business last year. It also has been working with Google in the CBRS arena, and Federated Wireless is another prominent SAS vendor.

In 2016, the FCC gave conditional SAS approval to Amdocs, Comsearch (CommScope), CTIA, Federated Wireless, Google, Key Bridge and Sony. The following year, CTIA informed the FCC (PDF) that it was withdrawing its applications for SAS and ESC administration because enough competition had emerged.

Last year, Amdocs announced that it had entered the FCC's Wave 1 compliance testing process and planned to become a CBRS SAS administrator. 

Meanwhile, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, who led the FCC’s review of the 3.5 GHz rules before they were finally revised last year, told the CBRS Alliance at its annual meeting in Charlotte, North Carolina, this week that “we are at the precipice” of seeing the vision of the CBRS Alliance and its members come into being.

The 3.5 GHz band will likely be the first U.S. midband 5G to come into play, he noted, and attributed much of the progress in the band to the alliance members. The CBRS Alliance has grown from six founding members to more than 120 members today, and it’s created an entire brand (OnGo) as well as equipment testing and certification programs.

RELATED: CBRS proponents quietly fret over NTIA’s ongoing 3.5 GHz tech testing

O’Rielly said he originally had grave concerns that the ESC review process was falling behind, and he admitted that he never expected it to leapfrog ahead of the SAS testing and development process. But it appears that once the appropriate reports are approved, the initial commercial deployment phase can proceed possibly within a few weeks.

The U.S. government still has more work to do, however. High on the agenda must be the auctioning of the Priority Access Licenses (PALs), an event that O’Rielly said he doesn’t see happening before the second quarter of 2020. That’s not soon enough, he reiterated, referring to the FCC being seemingly stuck in the “abyss of auction software development and technical-sounded excuses.” He didn’t lay blame on Chairman Ajit Pai but said it represents a larger problem needing “substantial work.”

He’s also looking for other sources of midband spectrum beyond the C-band, and that includes getting the NTIA and DOD to clear 3.45-3.55 GHz for commercial use.

Additional spectrum needs to be reallocated from the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, and federal agencies need to immediately initiate feasibility studies for those frequencies, he said. It’s generally known that spectrum is used for “shipborne, land-based, and aeronautical mobile radar systems,” but the existing information on exactly how, where and what amount of spectrum is being used at any time is outdated and incomplete, he added.

“These bands are desperately needed for 5G networks and the federal agencies should clear this spectrum to the greatest extent possible,” O’Rielly said, according to prepared remarks. “Operations can be moved to other bands or repacked within any narrow, remaining federal 3.1 to 3.45 GHz band. As I have said all along, CBRS is a spectrum-sharing experiment, but it in no way replaces our long-standing spectrum policy of clearing frequencies for exclusive-use licenses.”