Development of the shared 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band gained momentum this week, as the government’s complex testing process hit two milestones on the path to initial commercial deployments.
First up on Monday, The FCC approved Environmental Sensing Capabilities (ESCs) of three vendors —CommScope, Federated Wireless, and Google —for commercial operation in the 3550-3650 MHz portion of the 3.5 GHz band. The ESCs can be used to detect incumbent Navy radar transmissions within geographic areas covered by their approved sensor deployments and communicate the information to certified spectrum access systems (SAS). ESCs can only be used in combination with a fully certified SAS and within geographic areas covered by their approved ESC sensor registrations, according to the FCC. So FCC approval of at least one SAS for commercial deployment is needed before ESCs can operate.
Speaking at the CBRS Alliance annual meeting on Tuesday, FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly said that these ESC operators “are basically good to go” once their specific deployments are approved through the registration system. A process, O’Rielly said, that the FCC “is committed to completing quickly, and as soon as there is an operational SAS.”
On a related front, this week NTIA finished its lab testing stage examining systems of five SAS vendors. The SAS is key to the unique sharing system of CBRS, as it manages parameters that commercial spectrum systems will rely on, according to NTIA. The FCC requires SAS systems be able to manage and dynamically assign spectrum on an as-needed basis across the three tiers of users.
Now that testing for five of the first wave SAS applicants is complete, the Institute for Telecommunication Sciences (ITS) will submit test reports to the FCC, likely in June.
“Once the Commission gets the reports and sends them to DOD and NTIA, we will need to approve them quickly so that the initial commercial deployment phase can proceed very soon, hopefully within a few weeks of today,” O’Rielly said.
There are still six “first wave” SAS applicants and four “second wave” applications waiting to be processed.
CBRS has evoked interest from an array of players, including involvement from equipment vendors, wireless carriers, cable operators, tech giants like Google, and smaller internet providers.
Just this week, Midwestern internet service provider Midco announced it successfully completed CBRS trials using the Federated Wireless Spectrum Controller SAS. Midco said the tests showed its LTE network, using Telrad base stations and customer premises equipment, could communicate with Federated’s spectrum controller to request spectrum, and the SAS successfully assigned that spectrum.
Midco said it will be ready to immediately deploy fixed LTE wireless broadband across its rural footprint, with download speeds of up to 100 Mbps.
The timeline for an auction of priority access licenses (PAL) in the 3.5 GHz band has been pushed down the road. Although O’Rielly said the industry is “on the precipice of seeing the vision of the CBRS Alliance and its members come into being,” he later acknowledged that he doesn’t see the 3.5 GHz auction happening before the second quarter of 2020.
“That is just not soon enough,” O’Rielly said. “We seem to be stuck in the abyss of auction software development and technical-sounding excuses. Procrastination must end, and the auction must be scheduled.”