Alphabet Soup – CBRS Edition

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As a military brat, I grew up speaking acronyms. When my dad got TDY (Temporary Duty) orders, he was going on a brief solo trip, but if he got PCS (Permanent Change of Station) orders, we were all moving somewhere new. I think that might be why I gravitated towards a career in telecom. Over the years I’ve learned a lot of “dialects” and I’ve realized how much the wireline and wireless dialects differ, so I thought I’d try to demystify some wireless jargon in a bit I like to call “Alphabet Soup”…

What is CBRS?

CBRS is in the trade rags a lot these days, but if you don’t know what it means, you may be tuning it out. CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which muddies the waters because it sounds like the similarly named, but different, CB (Citizens Band) radio popularized in the 1970s. CBRS is a band of radio spectrum, from 3.55 GHz (gigahertz) to 3.7 GHz, that the FCC recently opened up to new users.

Why CBRS?

CBRS frequencies are relatively good real estate for offering services like FSS (Fixed Satellite Service) and WBB (Wireless Broadband), able to reach users who are 25-40 miles away from fiber with low impact from weather attenuation. Unfortunately, the FCC had previously made assignments in the CBRS band based on bad estimates of the demand for FSS, which has declined dramatically, and for WBB, aka (also known as) FWA (Fixed Wireless Access), which has exploded. So, the FCC developed a new set of rules to make the CBRS band available for much broader adoption.

How does CBRS work?

The challenge with the CBRS band is all of those previously assigned licensees, now called IA (Incumbent Access) users. In order to work around those IAs, the FCC developed a novel 3-tiered licensing system with IA users at the top, followed by PAL (Priority Access License) and GAA (General Authorized Access) users. PAL users, like IA users, have a license to a specific piece of the CBRS band in a specific LA (License Area) that is theirs to use. PALs are in 10 MHz (megahertz) increments and can only be assigned from the 3.55-3.65 GHz portion of the CBRS band. GAA users can basically come behind IA and PAL users to request spectrum, provided it doesn’t interfere with those users.

To ensure there is no interference, CBRS uses an ESC (Environmental Sensing Capability) that detects when IA or PAL users are operating in their assigned bands and reports that information to the SASs (Spectrum Access Systems) run by the SAAs (Spectrum Access Administrators). When GAA users need CBRS spectrum, they request it from an SAA, which then notifies all of the other SAAs via their SASs that the assignment was made. If there is still some kind of interference not detected by the ESCs, IA and PAL users can contact an SAA to complain and get the interference shut down.

Will CBRS matter?

If this all sounds pretty complicated, it is, but it was done for a very good reason: to deliver WBB/FWA to remote markets where broadband pickings are slim-to-none (and Slim done left town). Several operators bid for CBRS PALs when they were auctioned off in anticipation of also participating in the FCC’s (then upcoming) RDOF (Rural Digital Opportunity Fund) reverse auction for rural broadband funding. Now, armed with both CBRS PALs and RDOF funding, those operators are racing to build out WBB/FWA services in their RDOF funding areas with wireless networks using those CBRS PALs.

Whether you purchased a license and are looking for the right architecture and operational model to deploy or are looking for ways to opportunistically leverage GAA to expand your reach, Ronin Technology Advisors has some ideas. Give us a call and let’s see how we can help you grow your business. hello@roninpbr.com or 303.678.1844.

Rob Johnson, VP of Products and Platforms

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Our team has over twenty-five years of experience building and deploying network services, and transforming organizations into recognized market leaders.  Give us a call and let’s see how we can help you.
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