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Ruckus and others battle to preserve CBRS’s disruptive potential

The great hope for the multi-tiered access system of the USA’s CBRS band plan is that it will enable new players, such as cablecos and industrial companies, to harness cellular technology directly rather than via an MVNO deal. This could accelerate the uptake of 4G and future 5G for vertical markets, with the resulting impact on some business cases; and could offer new choices to consumers, opening the door to a more open service and device ecosystem in future.

There are many debates raging around conditions for the licensed portion of the spectrum (priority access licensees or PALs), and around the disruptive shared tier (general authorized access). The latest to weigh in is Ruckus Wireless, now part of cable vendor Arris, which argued in its latest FCC filing that the 3.5 GHz band must be opened up with rules that benefit all the sectors which have invested in the CBRS system, not just the MNOs.

These sectors include cable, rural, industrial and enterprise stakeholders, as well as MNOs, the company’s director of regulatory affairs and network standards, David Wright, argued when he met Erin McGrath, wireless adviser to FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, earlier this month.

Ruckus is part of a group of players which recently proposed a compromise framework for PALs, with support from some of the biggest entities which want to harness CBRS to pursue a new structure in the wireless market – notably Google and GE.

Under that compromise proposal, most parties (except MNOs) accepted some obstacles to their own CBRS opportunities, in the interests of allowing the largest possible number of stakeholders to derive value from the spectrum. On the carrier front, its representative body, CTIA, wants 10-year licensing terms and licenses based on census tracts.

Others, like GE, have argued for far shorter terms and smaller geographies, to encourage more participants, including those looking to offer wireless services to specialized industries or localized areas. They claim that the CTIA approach would effectively preclude non-telcos from affording the investment in the licences, merely adding CBRS to the spectrum portfolios of the same players.

The FCC’s base proposal, now subject to consultation, is that the auctions will include more than 500,000 licences and take place at least every three years.

The compromise, put forward in May, early in the ongoing FCC consultation process, included a provision for two census tract-based PALs available at auction, as well as five county-sized PALs available per county.

Meanwhile, work on making the GAA tier commercially available is underway in earnest, with a view to first services being on offer before year end. The CBRS Alliance’s OnGo Certification Program will be key to this, as will the spectrum access systems (SASs), recently authorized by the FCC, which will manage access, ensure priority for federal incumbents, and prevent interference to PALs from the general access usage.

The Alliance has announced a new working group focused on identifying, defining and implementing end-to-end deployment models and operational best practices for OnGo connectivity, including the interconnections between networks, operators and roaming hubs.

And the Alliance’s first interoperability test took place last week at the Colorado facilities of CableLabs, the R&D arm of the US cable industry, which has been particularly interested in CBRS to enable it to add wireless services to its bundles, while reducing the need to invest in spectrum or MVNO deals, by building localized small cell ‘sub-nets’ in shared bands.

The Alliance said there were 48 participants registered for the event, including three government representatives. The SAS providers taking part will be Amdocs, Comsearch (part of CommScope), Federated Wireless, Key Bridge, Google and Sony. The Department of Defense and the NTIA are working on the certification process for the spectrum allocation servers and radios, and the work of the eight certified OnGo labs will feed into this.

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