As we find ourselves at the start of 2024, it’s a good time to reflect on the key developments and trends for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) over the past year. CBRS has continued to gain traction as an innovative shared spectrum solution, providing new opportunities for enterprises, industry, in-building wireless, and fixed wireless access. This year saw significant CBRS buildouts, new product launches, key partnerships, and significant policy changes that will shape the future of the 3.5 GHz Innovation Band. From expanding trials to real-world networks, it’s been an eventful year for proving the potential and reality of the shared spectrum solution.
Private Networks Proliferate with OnGo: Key Deployments in 2023
The year 2023 saw new and exciting deployments and use cases in several industries, including manufacturing, education, large venues, airports, smart cities, utilities, office buildings, enterprise fixed-wireless broadband, and sports. A few notable examples include:
- The Sonoma County Fairgrounds and Lightning in a Bottle Music and Arts Festival each deployed CBRS solutions for their temporary outdoor coverage and capacity needs. The extended range of CBRS compared to Wi-Fi means that CBRS-based solutions need fewer access points to cover the same territory and are thus cheaper to deploy while providing the high capacity necessary for guests and staff.
- The Virginia Tech Transportation Institute (VTTI) is running trials on a CBRS network with AI to identify traffic conditions and hazards. HD cameras and 5G base stations are sprinkled throughout the test facility to enable real-time image analysis to predict incidents and provide rapid notifications.
- The U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) has been testing 5G on multiple military bases over several years. One site, the Marine Corps Logistics Base in Albany, Georgia, is trialing warehouse applications on a CBRS network that will determine if use cases such as autonomous vehicles, video analytics, and asset management tools will work sufficiently well on military bases.
- Wireless Internet Service Provider MetaLINK uses CBRS to connect homes and businesses in rural parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.
Some facilities, such as Fort Worth’s Cowtown Coliseum, New Jersey’s Newark Liberty International Airport, and the Tohono O’odham Nation, have deployed CBRS networks in conjunction with other connectivity technologies, providing their sites with a blend of technologies, with each used for specific purposes.
CBRS-Based Neutral Host Networks Gain Quickly in Popularity
Neutral host cellular networks based on CBRS spectrum saw significant growth and interest in 2023 as their benefits became more widely recognized across industries. Major venues and infrastructure providers saw the benefits of access to low-cost spectrum and carrier-agnostic cellular equipment that allow multiple mobile network operators (MNOs) to utilize shared infrastructure simultaneously. These networks improve in-building public cellular coverage and capacity for large crowds, reduce interference issues, and provide service continuity across spaces.
The rise in popularity of the Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) helped fuel the demand for CBRS-based NHNs, allowing multiple mobile network operators (MNOs) like AT&T and T-Mobile to share access to a common radio access network (RAN) infrastructure while still having separate core networks. This setup enables efficient infrastructure buildouts that allow differentiated services per MNO. We saw many announcements this year of vendors offering MOCN-based Neutral Host solutions, including Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Kajeet, Celona, JMA Wireless, and InfiniG.
Meta deployed CBRS-based Neutral Host Networks in several of their office buildings nationwide. They worked with the country’s top three mobile network operators and discovered they could deploy the CBRS-based solution 75% faster than an equivalent DAS deployment. California Polytechnic State University also deployed a Neutral Host network with T-Mobile.
CBRS Noteworthy Milestones and Announcements
A number of milestones and announcements came from the OnGo Alliance this year.
- The number of CBRS Access Points has risen to over 370,000 – the fast rise is an indicator of the popularity of CBRS.
- The OnGo Alliance expanded its reach by adding an Implementors class, bringing end-users into the fold.
- Over 5,000 professional installers are now certified to deploy CBRS network equipment.
- The FCC has authorized over 700 end-user devices to operate in the 3.5 GHz band.
- The ‘heartbeat’ interval has been extended from five minutes to 24 hours, allowing systems to stay online in the event they can’t connect to a Spectrum Access System (SAS).
- The Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program, run by the federal government, provides over $42 billion to expand high-speed internet access in the U.S. CBRS. Recently (in Nov 2023), the NTIA decided that “licensed by rule” spectrum, including CBRS, is reliable and eligible for the program. This should open up significant opportunities for Wireless Internet Service Providers to use CBRS Fixed Wireless networks to cost-effectively bridge the ‘digital divide’ and ‘homework gap’ prevalent in many parts of the United States.
OnGo Alliance Significantly Expands Resources Available for Vendors and Customers
The OnGo Alliance published new educational resources this year to further spread awareness and encourage the adoption of CBRS. A few examples of available resources include:
- OnGo Industry Success Stories. An eBook of successful CBRS deployments in many industries, including smart cities, hospitality, utilities, and wireless internet service providers (WISPs).
- Minneapolis-Saint Paul (MSP) International Airport Case Study. A look inside at the challenges faced by a major passenger airport and the tests it ran to determine if wireless connectivity could operate as well as wired connections. Trials included digital signage, HD video, infrastructure monitoring, and Common Use System Equipment (CUSE) carts.
- OnGo Roaming Whitepaper. Roaming between public and private networks and between distinct private networks is the subject of this white paper. Multiple implementation models are discussed, including Home Routing, the use of a Roaming Hub, and Local Breakout models.
- OnGo Security Infographic. A simple-to-understand explanation of what makes OnGo private cellular networks secure, from traffic encryption to data privacy to policy enforcement.
Other resources published during the year include additional case studies, a video discussion on using CBRS-based Neutral Host Networks, white papers on OnGo Identifiers and Private Network Security, and a Technical Specification on extended subscriber authentication.
The OnGo Alliance also began a series of podcasts in 2023, interviewing several fascinating people about their CBRS experiences. Guests included David Broecker, the Chief Innovation and Collaboration Officer for the Purdue Research Foundation; Richard Bernhardt, the CMO for the Wireless Innovation Forum and Senior Director for Spectrum for WISPA; Jonathan Poly, the Digital Transformation Advisor from the California Polytechnic State University, and executives from the New York Public Library, who described how they used CBRS to bring broadband to library neighborhoods where high-speed internet was low or non-existent.
The OnGo Alliance also created and maintains a Priority Access License (PAL) database detailing the companies and CBRS channels used in each county and state.
It’s clear that CBRS gained significant momentum this past year. With expanded trials, new product launches, and favorable policy changes, CBRS proved its worth as an innovative shared spectrum solution. Real-world deployments demonstrated CBRS networks meeting the connectivity needs of various industries, and resources like success stories, case studies, and technical specifications provided guidance for new implementers. CBRS is poised for an even broader uptake in 2024 and beyond. As the 3.5 GHz band continues lighting up with new deployments, we can expect CBRS to empower enterprises, industrial settings, rural regions, and carriers with reliable and cost-effective wireless connectivity.