The FCC’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service is on the Horizon!

By    May 26, 2015

Availability and ready access to unlicensed or lightly licensed spectrum in the United States has directly contributed to both economic development and social advancement.  Today it is estimated that over three million users in the United States receive high capacity broadband access from fixed wireless service providers, principally using unlicensed 5 GHz and lightly licensed 3.65 GHz spectrums.  An untold number of sensors, actuators, and other control systems utilized by railways, electric utilities, and oil and gas firms are networked together utilizing in part that same 3.65 GHz and 5 GHz spectrum – a cornerstone to what we call today the Industrial Internet. Schools – from elementary to university – extend their classroom to remote learners, connect buildings, and ensure the safety of their campuses through the use of unlicensed spectrum.  Demand and utilization has never diminished and fixed wireless network equipment is keeping pace – with solutions on the immediate horizon capable of supporting over 750 Mbps per Sector and achieving spectral efficiency in excess of 37 bits/second/Hertz.  The limiting factor on this economic and social engine has been access to adequate spectrum. 

On the 17th of April the FCC adopted Report and Order and Second Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (FNPR) 15-47, the latest iterative step in opening up an additional 100 MHz of spectrum in the 3550-3700 MHz band for commercial use.  15-47 comes on the heels of FCC 14-30 First Report and Order which opened up 5.15 – 5.25 GHz for outdoor use.  FNPR 15-47 advances the definition of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS); including the establishment of Priority Access Licensee (PAL); General Authorized Access (GAA); the Spectrum Access System (SAS); and the governance of the Grandfathered Wireless Broadband Licensee through April 17, 2020.

The FCC has done an elegant job in balancing the needs of critical infrastructure customers like water and electric utilities, rail operators, oil and gas firms, and government whose mission dictates committed and unequivocal access to spectrum via the PAL.  The FCC has also ensured significant access, generally not less than 80MHz, to unlicensed spectrum via the GAA.  Perhaps most importantly they have protected the investment in and ensured the integrity of installed networks using the 3.65 GHz band, allowing them to continue to build out their networks through August 2020 in a protected state, and then transitioning to GAA status.  RCR Wireless News is reporting that Google is already testing their SAS service which bodes well for a timely implementation of the CBRS and the additional 100 MHz of spectrum that it opens up.    

Considering that establishment of the CBRS is a reallocation of spectrum previously set aside for national defense, with utilization in some locals, it is not surprising that not all questions have been anticipated or answered; so a bit more work to be done on the end-to-end schedule and closing the gaps on execution.  Cambium for its part is confident that its existing PMP 450 network equipment will align to the forthcoming certification criteria; and will continue to enable build-out of existing networks.  In short order Cambium will be publishing a FAQ that we expect to answer many of the questions or customers and prospective users of the existing 3.65 GHz spectrum have.  All-in-all, this is a positive step forward for a wide range of network operators from private to service provider to public service. 

It is also not surprising that the European Union is undertaking efforts free up spectrum across its member states to enable fixed wireless networks to connect the unconnected and under connected – more to come on that topic in a future note.