Comcast looks set to test small cells in CBRS spectrum

Low cost small cells in shared or unlicensed spectrum will have a disruptive effect on the mobile market, lowering the barriers to entry for new operators and allowing non-spectrum holders to deploy LTE indoors and support optimized and localized services.

The US cablecos have been talking about this approach since the days of WiMAX, and their standards group, CableLabs, is increasingly contributing to development efforts in 5G, shared spectrum and other relevant technology. Now Comcast looks likely to test small cells in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band, which has a general access, shared layer.

Comcast CEO Brian Roberts has previously said that a mixture of WiFi hotspots and homespots, the cableco’s MVNO deal with Verizon, and its own cellular roll-out, would allow Comcast to launch mobile services without the “kind of investment” that would normally be involved.

Now Nokia has filed an application with the FCC to be able to demonstrate its small cell products for an unnamed customer located at 1701 John F. Kennedy Boulevard in Philadelphia (the address of Comcast headquarters in the city). Nokia said it wanted to “enhance its efforts to design and develop equipment to meet the communications needs of our customers”.

The tests would use its Flex small cell and six mobile units operating in the CBRS band from 3.55 GHz to 3.7 GHz. The trial would take place between September 15 2017, and March 15 2018 “to allow time for set-up, customer demonstrations/testing and breakdown of the equipment,” Nokia said.

Charter Communications has also filed comments with the FCC, as part of the regulator’s consultation on CBRS auction rules, saying it is actively exploring the use of the band, not just in the general access portion, but possibly acquiring one of the Priority Access Licences. It recently received two experimental licenses in Charlotte, North Carolina, and Tampa, Florida, to begin testing in the band, with a focus on multiplay services for rural areas.