CBRS for Private 4G/5G – Indoor & Outdoor!

If your organization plans a private indoor/outdoor wireless deployment in the U.S., make sure you consider the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Deloitte predicts that hundreds of thousands of companies in retail, healthcare, education, utilities, manufacturing, and transportation will deploy private 5G networks over the next ten years.

CBRS is not a technology, but instead the spectrum the wireless technology operates on. Although the FCC is not mandating any specific RF technology for CBRS, its shared approach was developed with 4G/5G technologies in mind. Spectrum is one of the many resources found in all countries and is not infinite; hence, it is valuable and needs to be managed. The CBRS spectrum is the FCC’s latest approach to assign, manage, and monetize spectrum. The FCC has never offered spectrum in such a fashion, PAL’s became available after Auction 105, held in July-August 2020.

Three CBRS spectrum access tiers

There are three main tiers or users in CBRS

  1. Incumbents – mainly U.S. Navy radar stations and federal agencies; they are the highest on the pecking order.
  2. Priority Access Licenses (PAL) – Those with PALs had placed one or multiple bids for PAL licensing in Auction 105 and were fortunate enough to win. These auction bids were for 10 MHz channels on a per county basis. A bidder could bid for up to 4 PALs in a single county. The bidders included mobile network operators (MNOs), commercial concerns, industrial companies, real estate developers, stadium owners, airports, seaports, and many others. Once awarded a PAL, the bidders are guaranteed a 10 MHz grant anywhere they want to use CBRS in that county. The bid values were proportional to the population. However, there are some exceptions, such as unpopulated oilfields, where the oil companies elected to bid big to secure spectrum, as was the case in Texas and New Mexico.  Interestingly, if a PAL owner is not using its PAL, that PAL can be assigned as GAA spectrum for as long as the PAL owner is not using it.
  3. Generally Authorized Access (GAA) – Those who did not bid for PALs can use GAA to build their wireless infrastructure. It is also permitted for PAL winners to use GAAs to complement or augment their spectrum capacity.  If one is interested in using GAA, one must purchase a Citizens Broadband Radio Service Device (CBSD), install it at the tower site at the desired height and azimuth, and then apply for a grant, for this specific installation. No application is granted without having a CBSD installed first. Of course, there are ways to survey the available GAA for grants, and one can undoubtedly investigate before acquiring and installing CBSDs.

CBRS Spectrum Access Systems

To maintain and enforce order and ensure the incumbents always have access to their spectrum and without interference, PALs have priority over the GAAs. This CBRS environment needed spectrum “traffic cops,” that are called Spectrum Access Systems or SAS. There are five approved SAS administrators: Amdocs, CommScope, Federated Wireless, Google, and Sony. These companies are not assigned or restricted to markets but have each naturally gravitated towards specific verticals.

Under Part 96 CBRS rules:

(a) Use of devices in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service. Citizens Broadband Radio Service Devices (CBSDs) may be used in the frequency bands listed in §96.11. The operation of all CBSDs shall be coordinated by one or more authorized Spectrum Access Systems (SASs).

(b) The Citizens Broadband Radio Service includes PAL and GAA tiers of service. PALs and GAA users must not cause harmful interference to Incumbent users and must accept interference from Incumbent Users. GAA Users must not cause harmful interference to PAL’s and must accept interference from PALs.

Which Radio Technology to Use on CBRS

There are many technologies, but they all fall into three simple groups.

  1. Non-3GPP compliant – Proprietary technologies. These are older installed radios and can be upgraded with software to become compliant with the CBRS rules and interoperable with the SASs.  These solutions do not offer any mobility and are not compatible with 4G/5G devices.
  2. 3GPP 4G solutions – There are many solutions for indoor and outdoor deployment on CBRS. These solutions come in all shapes and sizes, but all are standards-based and allow one to connect 3GPP 4G devices. It is important to note that some of them are fixed only and do not support mobility, so one must ask the right questions to the vendor. The ONGO Alliance champions 3GPP solutions to deploy on a shared spectrum such as CBRS, and the Alliance maintains a matrix of 4G/5G compliant technologies for CBRS.
  3. 3GPP 5G solutions – Much like the 4G solutions, the 5G solutions are 3GPP standards, and most of them allow the connectivity and compatibility to 4G and 5G devices. These solutions also vary in shape and size, and they address indoor and outdoor deployments. CBRS 5G delivers far better latency and reliability than 4G and Wi-Fi. It provides guaranteed packet delivery and assurance of communications, unlike Wi-Fi that is a best-effort technology. CBRS also provides ultra-reliable Industry 4.0 connectivity for sensors, machine safety systems, autonomous drones, and autonomous vehicles of all sizes.  Indoors, CBRS 5G delivers far better mission-critical communications than Wi-Fi and even 4G. Outdoors, CBRS 5G provides unsurpassed wireless connection reliability and low latency needed for autonomous vehicles and other applications requiring Ultra-Reliable, Low Latency Communications (URLLC). Deloitte reckons that 5G has the potential to become the world’s predominant local area network (LAN) and wide-area network (WAN) technology over the next one to two decades, starting with greenfield deployments. Industrial users now can design mobile networks to meet the coverage, latency, throughput, and security requirements of mission/ production-critical applications is fundamental to the new wave of the plethora of new Industry 4.0 applications and devices

Spectrum in other countries

If you are not operating in the USA, there are many other countries considering spectrum re-purposing.  The ONGO alliance is active in lobbying for more Spectrum Sherring, such as CBRS, globally.  Here are some examples;

  • Chile, Argentina, Columbia, and many other countries with large Mining and O&G operations are actively seeking consultations, and some already have pilots
  • France and the UQ already gave plans
  • Germany – 100 MHz in min-band (3.7 GHz to 3.8 GHz) for local and regional 5G networks such as industrial, agriculture, and other enterprise applications.
  • Japan – 300 Mhz in MM Wave for local 5G services and allows private LTE networks to use LTE BC 39 on a shared basis. The Japan regulator is also considering private 5G allocations in the 4.6 GHz band and between 28.3 GHz to 29.1 GHz.

4G delivers more than proprietary systems, … However, 5G can deliver a lot more than 4G

  • The mission-critical wireless infrastructure that Wi-Fi cannot deliver
  • The mission-critical Push-to-Talk that other wireless IP systems cannot deliver
  • The mission-critical wireless system people and machines can rely on for safety
  • Accurate and distributed synchronization of IoT processes such as need in Industry 4.0 and autonomous vehicles, robots, and drones.
  • Ultra-Reliable Low Latency Communications – URLLC
  • Massive Machine Type Communications (mMTC)
  • Guaranteed packet delivery
  • Network Slicing
  • The path to other 5G related benefits
  • A rapidly growing ecosystem of devices for your people and machines

The features listed above are all good solutions, depending on the use case.  There are no silver bullets in the CBRS wireless technology space, but the closest thing to a silver bullet in CBRS wireless is 5G. You may not need 5G everywhere today but investing in a CBRS 5G technology that can deliver 4G/5G is a much better bet than investing in sub 4G technologies.


Need more information?

Need help navigating through all of this?

Reach out to me on this blog or at IoTALTE; we will be glad to help.


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