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The wireless industry has undergone several significant transformations this century, primarily noticeable by the advancements from 3G to 4G to 5G and how our mobile phones have changed in appearance and capabilities. However, another significant change has occurred behind the scenes with the arrival of the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), the first shared cellular wireless spectrum. Before CBRS, spectrum was either licensed, where specific bands were allocated to mobile network operators, or unlicensed, available to anyone for use, such as Wi-Fi. The 3.5 GHz CBRS band is the first system in the world to allow enterprises and service providers to share the same frequency spectrum for a cellular network.

This innovation gives everyone the option to access premium mid-band spectrum

Central to the success of CBRS, aptly known as the Innovation Band, is its well-known three-tiered approach to spectrum access. This approach effectively meets the needs of various stakeholders. Incumbent users have the assurance of access when required, license holders are getting good value for their investments, and a significant amount of spectrum is available to all. By striking this groundbreaking balance, CBRS creates a secure ecosystem where all participants thrive and benefit from its revolutionary capabilities.

How has the market adopted CBRS in the ~ 3 years it has been commercialized? Let’s take a look:

CBRS: The Numbers

Ever since the FCC opened the band to commercial deployments in 2020, the adoption of CBRS has been constantly growing. According to the OnGo Alliance, the industry consortium responsible for promoting CBRS-based LTE and 5G solutions, more than 350,000 CBRS access points are now in use. According to a recent report from the NTIA, that number has risen steadily at 12% per quarter.

A thriving market of more than 40 manufacturers is selling CBRS-based equipment, and more than 650 authorized end-client devices and over 1000 different operators use the spectrum where freely available, catering to the diverse needs of various industries and users. Devices include far more than just phones, tablets, and laptops – there are also CBRS-enabled cameras, IoT and environmental sensors, customer premises equipment (CPE), two-way radios, and USB/Ethernet adapters.

Who’s Using CBRS?

It’s not only the types and number of devices that are burgeoning – it’s also what type of companies are deploying CBRS-based networks that is notable. Virtually all verticals that have adopted private networks are seeing members do so with CBRS.

Manufacturers are the leading users of private networks, finding them invaluable for process automation, improving worker safety, and enabling autonomous vehicles and robots. Global tile manufacturer Del Conca worked with Celona in their Tennessee plant, improving their wireless coverage significantly with a CBRS-based network while using one-third of the access points compared to Wi-Fi. The new network provides more efficient material handling, avoiding production stalls, and has resulted in faster packing and shipping, speeding up order fulfillment.

Sports arenas are finding the benefits of private networks. State Farm Stadium in Arizona deployed a CBRS network with help from JMA Wireless, DISH Network, and CP Communications. The network was built in time for the most recent Super Bowl and was primarily used by stage managers and camera operators. The Haslam Sports Group (HSG) built CBRS-based networks in two stadiums in Ohio: FirstEnergy Stadium, the Cleveland Browns home, and Field, the home field of the Columbus Crew. The new networks will relieve Wi-Fi congestion and simplify game entry and concession sales.

Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) are using CBRS networks to bring high-speed broadband to rural areas at a significantly lower price point than fiber. MetaLINK, for example, is working with Nokia and Winncomm to provide FWA across parts of three states – Ohio, Indiana, and Michigan.

K-12 schools have moved past the need to provide broadband due to the pandemic. They are using CBRS-based networks to close the digital divide inexpensively, provide broad coverage, and increase capacity to students, teachers, and staff. The St. Vrain Valley School District in Longmont, Colorado, worked with BaiCells to deploy a private LTE network that, when complete, will provide coverage to 4,000 students. According to sources, the initial phase of the network was up and running in 2.5 weeks.

Universities are deploying CBRS networks for students and faculty to add high-tech campus innovation labs. For example, the Purdue Research Foundation (PRF) deployed a CBRS-based network adjacent to Purdue University’s campus. It’s a collaborative effort with the university and private enterprise that covers 400 acres and many businesses and supports scientific research and technology commercialization. Recently, the PRF added the second-busiest airport in Indiana to the CBRS GAA network with the aid of Ericsson and Saab. California Polytechnic State University (Cal Poly) created a Digital Transformation Hub with the help of AWS and Federated Wireless to delve deeper into the edge, cloud, and IoT. Students and faculty work together on projects such as digital twins and autonomous farming.

In addition to Purdue, other airports around the country find CBRS-based private networks useful. Newark Liberty International Airport opened a new terminal in February 2023 to welcome 14 million passengers per year and is using a private LTE CBRS network to help provide passengers with reliable internet coverage. The Minneapolis-St. Paul International Airport ran a series of trials on various airport operations and found the CBRS-based network to equal or surpass existing, often wired, functionality. Betacom worked with the Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport to deploy a CBRS private network, having found in trials that the network significantly improved services such as baggage handling.

CBRS networks are also used in outdoor events, which need broad wireless coverage and high capacity, but only for a limited duration, from a few days to a few weeks. Event organizers are setting up ad-hoc private cellular networks to offer visitors the bandwidth to upload their activities and staff to handle ticketing, PoS transactions, and mobile check-in. AWS helped the Lightning in a Bottle Music and Arts Festival in Bakersfield, California, meld a CBRS network with other wireless connectivity options to create a seamless guest experience.

Another great advancement CBRS achieved is in enhancing in-building public cellular connectivity. CBRS-based Neutral Host Networks (NHN) allow office buildings and large venues to provide indoor coverage for mobile devices over multiple public networks with far less equipment, hence lower cost, than alternative DAS networks. Meta, the parent company of Facebook, is deploying a CBRS NHN in multiple buildings across the country. They find they can deploy a CBRS-based network 75% faster than a DAS deployment, with significant cost savings, and get consistent coverage in all their buildings. California Polytechnic State University also extended its private network infrastructure to support the neutral host network for emergency calling services.

Other industries deploying CBRS-based private networks include:

  • Healthcare
  • Agriculture
  • Oil & gas
  • Warehouses
  • Hospitality
  • Utilities
  • Military
  • Large venues

CBRS innovation is burgeoning in all facets – technology, devices, and use cases. Earlier this year, OnGo Alliance awarded CBRS deployments for innovative uses. One was given to Baicells Technologies, along with ALEF Edge, Druid, and others, for its deployment in a multi-dwelling unit (MDU) community, providing high-speed broadband access to apartment buildings and offering smart amenities. JMA Wireless, along with Boingo, Cisco, Dell, DISH, Google, Hughes, and Intel, was recognized for an O-RAN-compliant 5G vRAN and radios at the US Naval Station Whidbey Island. The complete list of award winners can be found here.

Partnerships and Products Highlight Momentum

The consistent stream of announcements regarding new products and services has garnered significant attention from businesses. As companies unveil innovative CBRS-enabled devices, applications, and solutions, the CBRS ecosystem grows stronger, fostering additional research and investment. Prominent examples of this innovation include AWS and Federated Wireless, each offering Private Wireless-as-a-Service solutions, Samsung’s development of a 5G CBRS Strand Small Cell, and BLiNQ Networks providing CBRS base stations with tri-sector small antennas. Several vendors are now supplying Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) gateways, which is accelerating the demand for CBRS-based Neutral Host Networks, while Apple’s decision earlier this year for expanded functionality for private networks and its existing support for CBRS on phones and tablets will likely accelerate the wide-spread adoption of the 3.5 GHz band.


The rise of CBRS is not just a momentary burst of progress – it marks the onset of a transformative journey that will continue to revolutionize wireless communication. The bridge it forms across the digital divide is a step towards a more inclusive and connected world. By unlocking opportunities for secure and high-performance private cellular connectivity, bringing broadband to underserved areas, and streamlining connectivity for large venues, CBRS is empowering industries and individuals alike, with expectations that it will help tribal lands gain needed connectivity, large buildings improve their indoor coverage and capacity and help conquer the digital divide with WISPs and Fixed Wireless. The OnGo Alliance’s recent member meeting saw a record number of vendors in attendance, while the next one, scheduled for Dallas in October, will be the first to welcome new members that are ‘Implementors,’ or CBRS network users.

Enterprises should not hesitate to look further into the capabilities and benefits a CBRS-based private network provides – others in their field are already doing so. We are at the beginning of a groundbreaking era where CBRS will drive innovation, revolutionize industries, and create new possibilities for future wireless technologies. As we look ahead, the future holds a world where CBRS plays a pivotal role in shaping the connected landscape of tomorrow.