Networking

Why opening up broadband spectrum could upend wireless business models

Citizens Broadband Radio Service could make mobile connectivity more easily accessible and less expensive.

Building a slide deck, pitch, or presentation? Here are the big takeaways:
  • The FCC will release 150 MHz of spectrum called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) from the military's control this year and opened it up to wireless carriers, cable companies, hospitals, and sports stadiums to share.
  • CBRS has the potential to change the wireless industry by making telecoms share broadband, and could potentially make mobile connectivity less expensive and more easily accessible.

A large portion of the US airwaves will be released by the FCC from the military's control this year and opened to wireless carriers, cable companies, hospitals, and sports stadiums. Shared use of the 150 MHz of spectrum, called Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), could upend the wireless business, Bloomberg reported—and make mobile internet connectivity more easily accessible and less expensive.

Google is leading the effort to make CBRS work among different carriers, building databases and sensor systems that switch users to different CBRS channels to avoid interference, Bloomberg reported.

The new spectrum can potentially enable services such as Gigabit LTE speeds in more places, and the ability for places like sports stadiums or hotels to create their own private LTE networks without owning any spectrum. These networks could be used to power industrial Internet of Things (IoT) networks or enterprise use in general, according to a Qualcomm blog post.

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While shared spectrum may be a mental hurdle that US wireless carriers must overcome, the need for new spectrum is very strong, Bloomberg reported. The rise of unlimited wireless plans and the pressure to build 5G networks means major telecoms may not be able to pass up the options offered by CBRS. Verizon, AT&T, T-Mobile, Comcast, and Charter Communications are now testing CBRS, according to Bloomberg.

CBRS is a three-tiered system, Bloomberg explained: At the top is the military, which will retain spectrum priority whenever it needs it. The second level will be sold to the highest bidders across the country, like the telecoms. And the third is a free tier that any company can use—however, it won't have any protection from interference.

Bloomberg offered the following example of how this would work: If a person is on a call on their smartphone in Los Angeles using CBRS, and an aircraft carrier goes by, the carrier will be moved onto the spectrum because it gets the priority. However, a system run by Google or another smaller partner will move you onto a different channel without dropping the call. When the aircraft carrier leaves, it will transfer you back.

If a company purchases a priority tier, and doesn't use it, the spectrum becomes free for others to use, preventing companies from hoarding it, Bloomberg reported.

Google's plan opens up a host of new options for enterprises: Businesses will deploy almost 1 million CBRS access points and spend $1 billion annually by 2025, according to Mobile Experts research cited by Bloomberg.

"That latter market is nearly infinite," Joe Madden, founder of Mobile Experts, told Bloomberg. "We've talked to hotel owners with hundreds of locations and they're keen to try CBRS. When guests stay and the coverage is poor they don't come back."

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Image: iStockphoto/chombosan

About Alison DeNisco Rayome

Alison DeNisco Rayome is a Staff Writer for TechRepublic. She covers CXO, cybersecurity, and the convergence of tech and the workplace.

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