Increased spectrum availability means more opportunity to technologically transform day-to-day operations
At first glance, the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) may sound like the name of a studio broadcast from radio’s golden age, but its waves carry much more potential. CBRS is a versatile band of shared spectrum that’s attracting immense interest in the use and expansion of private cellular networks. By tapping into the unique architecture and capabilities of CBRS, enterprise businesses are bringing their dreams of digital automation and transformation to life.
What is CBRS?
CBRS is a band of radio frequency spectra operating in the 3.55-3.7 GHz range. The CBRS spectrum totals 150 MHz and is particularly unique because it is a shared spectrum that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has divided it into three tiers, each occupied by users with different types of access.
- The incumbent access tier is used solely by the U.S. Navy and commercial fixed satellite stations whose access is grandfathered and prioritized to protect them from interference.
- The priority access tier includes Priority Access License (PAL) holders, such as Internet service providers and enterprises users, who have purchased spectrum licenses from the FCC during auctions.
- The General Authorized Access (GAA) tier is composed of users who can access the CBRS spectrum for free using phones, laptops, home routers, etc., but are not given priority over incumbents or PAL users.
Access to CBRS is managed and administered by a group of Spectrum Access Systems (SAS) providers, including Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, CommScope, and Sony, who determine appropriate level of access for each user.
CBRS is distinct not only because of its shared architecture, but also because of its potential to offload traffic for wireless carriers and mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs), deliver fixed wireless access, and operate as an alternative to distributed antenna systems (DAS) and Wi-Fi.
How CBRS impacts private cellular networks
Although the large-scale adoption of CBRS is picking up steam, the market is still maturing and standardizing use cases for the sizeable 150 MHz band. Spectrum availability is a critical component of the success and maturation of the private cellular market in the U.S. as enterprise businesses seek out a wireless solutions that check all the boxes of security, scalability, coverage, latency, and speed.
Whether an organization has already purchased a license to use the CBRS spectrum or they plan to use GAA, converting their allotted spectrum to a private 5G or LTE model can solve a myriad of operational hurdles by:
- Alleviating severe network congestion through priority and preemption.
- Providing secure, mobile, interference-free connectivity.
- Facilitating the storage and management of sensitive data at the edge.
- Delivering Wireless WAN and LAN solutions where carriers lack infrastructure.
- Making high-bandwidth applications more affordable.
CBRS use cases
Industries throughout the U.S. have taken note of 5G and LTE benefits, and CBRS availability only further increases the likelihood that businesses can take advantage of next-generation technologies where connectivity is required. Here are a few private 5G use cases and insight into how the CBRS spectrum is being used today.
Connected equipment and autonomy
Across vast landscapes and hard-to-reach places, private networks provide businesses with a means to get the job done. For example, mining companies use private 5G and LTE to operate remote-controlled vehicles in dangerous environments, while agricultural enterprises use private network solutions to connect soil sensors and digital nutrient maps that guide irrigation practices, pruning, and chemical applications.
A private network can securely connect devices used for remote monitoring and control, such as intelligent traffic sensors driving automation and improving efficiencies. In addition to connecting their point-of-sale operations and 4K video displays, large retail complexes like American Dream have used CBRS and private 5G and LTE to implement location tracking sensors for strollers and elevators, ticketing machines, and more while saving nearly 90% of fiber optic costs.
Video and security
Even though security cameras are commonplace in urban, suburban, and rural areas alike, a suitable Internet connection isn’t always available where a camera needs to be installed. Using a private network as backhaul for cameras and security devices allows organizations to protect their assets regardless of location.
When connected to assets in a distribution, logistics, warehouse, or port environment, a private network provides a secure network with the agility required to allow on-site operations managers to better utilize their workforce, equipment, resources, and space. This includes GPS applications and locators for more efficient picking and packing, as well as IoT sensors for environmental monitoring and predictive maintenance.
Private cellular networks help connect workers to their environments and to one another. In large public venues like stadiums and amusement parks, private networks are used to deliver push-to-talk applications without interference. In challenging environments like mines or remote oil rigs with few options for connectivity, private cellular networks provide the network needed to communicate with workers and ensure their safety.
Fixed wireless access
Because it’s not feasible to run fiber to every home in the U.S., wireless service providers can offer connectivity in remote areas with the help of CBRS. During the COVID era, this use of the spectrum became an important element of distance learning. In fact, through CBRS-driven Private LTE, the Murray School District was able to provide high-performance private network connectivity to more than 400 households.
Getting started with a private cellular network
If any of the above use cases resonate with you, it may be time to carve out your own piece of the CBRS spectrum and establish a private cellular network. Here are a few simple steps to begin creating your plan.
- Create a clear picture of your business requirements by determining which problems a private network will solve for, which edge devices to support, and what data rate and interoperability requirements must be met. Strategizing long-term wireless needs will help to future-proof your investment.
- Develop and prioritize use cases and key performance indicators (KPIs). The more use cases, the better the ROI of a private cellular network.
- Define infrastructure requirements, starting with user equipment. A proof of concept supporting your anchor use case will help your team familiarize themselves with the equipment while also validating your business case.
- Design the network, leveraging a trusted integrator with experience in wireless. Remember to take zoning, permitting, site acquisition, and construction into account for outdoor deployments.
- Measure and reflect on the KPIs, considering additional use cases for the network.