Ruckus, Rise Broadband cite concerns about potential 3.5 GHz CBRS rule changes

Executives at Ruckus Wireless and Rise Broadband are among those who are concerned the FCC might decide to restructure the rules for the 3.5 GHz CBRS band.

FCC Chairman Ajit Pai has made no announcement about action on 3.5 GHz, and sources at the FCC are not saying if anything is in the works. But members of the CBRS community are worried enough to pay visits to the FCC and let them know they’re not keen on the idea of revisiting the rules.

CTIA had no comment earlier this week, but wireless operators have complained about the short license terms for Priority Access Licenses (PAL), which are yet to be auctioned and awarded, and the two Republican commissioners, now the majority, expressed dislike for how some of the rules turned out when they were voted on last year.

If the FCC decides to revisit and/or change the rules, that could impede progress the CBRS Alliance has made over the past year—but it’s not known how deep any changes would go, so any potential impact is unclear. In a statement, the CBRS Alliance said it is reviewing FCC comments and holding discussions with its members.

Both Ruckus and Rise Broadband are members of the CBRS Alliance, but they did not speak to FierceWirelessTech on behalf of the alliance. The alliance was formed last year by Google, Federated Wireless, Nokia, Qualcomm, Intel and Ruckus and has grown to more than 40 members.

“The CBRS Alliance is committed to the CBRS shared spectrum and 3.5 GHz LTE ecosystem,” the alliance said in a statement provided to FierceWirelessTech. “Given the nature of the shared band, the Alliance has seen great interest in the use of the spectrum for LTE and has seen its diverse membership grow from 6 founding members to 44 member companies since we launched in August 2016. Over the course of the past 6 months, there have been many proof of concept demos, and use case demonstrations using LTE in 3.5 GHz and interest in the use of the band remains strong.”

The alliance said it’s holding its 2nd All Member Meeting next week in Denver, which will include a range of face-to-face sessions for its technical, marketing and test and certification working groups (augmenting their ongoing meetings), as well as technology demonstrations of CBRS solutions by a number of its members. 

“The CBRS Alliance remains committed towards supporting certification and rollouts in the 2017 timeframe,” the statement said. "We are reviewing the FCC comments and discussing with our members.”

RELATED: A year in, what’s happening with Google, Verizon, Nokia and the 3.5 GHz CBRS band?

If it does revisit the CBRS band rules, the FCC could limit its changes to the PAL portion of the rules. For example, in its filing with the commission, the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA) suggested that if a new proceeding is initiated, PAL terms should not exceed five years, and the existing three-year term could be retained for some PALs.

Representatives with WISPA met with Commissioner Michael O’Rielly and other legal advisers to O’Rielly and Chairman Pai last week to discuss potential changes to the rules.

Jeff Kohler, who was at the WISPA meetings, is co-founder and chief development officer of JAB Wireless, doing business as Rise Broadband. He said the current CBRS rules are very small business-friendly, making licensing for this segment affordable really for the first time.

The shorter license terms and smaller geographic areas based on census tracts means it’s less expensive for them to deploy equipment. Plus, the 3.55 to 3.65 GHz band is used worldwide, so there’s a worldwide ecosystem of equipment makers that already make gear for that band, and “we’re able to get very high performing equipment at very reasonable prices” leveraging the global ecosystem, he told FierceWirelessTech.

“We thought they struck the appropriate balance in the first set of the rules, and we have, as have other small companies, invested a lot of money in equipment in the 3.65 band,” which can also be used in the 3.5 band to deploy LTE services. “We get nervous when they’re thinking about changing the rules.”

RELATED: Verizon, T-Mobile, Sprint join AT&T in eyeing LTE deployments in 3.5 GHz CBRS band

David Wright, director, regulatory affairs and network standards at Ruckus Wireless, recently met with legal advisers to O’Rielly and Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, as well as other FCC staff, to provide an update on Ruckus’ corporate structure and discussed a potential review of the 3.5 GHz rules.

He expressed Ruckus’ hope that the scope and timing for any such review would be communicated to the public as soon as possible, and that any changes to the rules resulting from such a review would not undermine the significant investments and efforts made by Ruckus or other companies. (Ruckus is currently a business unit of Brocade Communications System but on its way to being owned by Arris.)

Wright told FierceWirelessTech that Ruckus has been actively developing product for the 3.5 GHz band for the past two to three years and has conducted trials with various service provider and enterprise customers, demonstrating at Mobile World Congress 2017 some of its 3.5 GHz offerings. The multi-operator neutral host opportunity is one of its focuses.

Wright testified before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Communications and Technology on April 5, along with CTIA, EchoStar and Ericsson representatives.

Wright told the committee that there has been a “tremendous industry response” to the opportunities encompassed in the current CBRS rules, and expectations call for deployments in the second half of this year as the FCC completes the authorization of the Spectrum Access System (SAS) and Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESC) administrators and begins certifying equipment for Part 96 operation.

"It is critical that any restructuring of the CBRS rules be done in a manner that does not negate industry’s efforts nor delay the commercial availability of the band,” he said in his testimony. “Major changes would upset expectations and undermine investment.”