FCC Makes Headway in Shared Spectrum

Author: Henry Rademacher

Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) “is a 150 MHz wide broadcast band of the 3.5 GHz band (3550 MHz to 3700 MHz).” The developments regarding access to the band are significant because the spectrum will be shared between service providers. 

Spectrum is an extremely valuable resource because it is essential to numerous sectors of the economy. Much of its value comes from the fact that spectrum is so scarce. Therefore, it is a big deal anytime that a substantial amount of it is opened up for commercial use. The 3.5 GHz band which is being opened up for CBRS was previously allocated to the U.S. Navy for the operations of radar systems. The reallocation of such a valuable resource to shared use in the private sector has potential to improve the communications infrastructure on which the cable industry is built. The FCC’s move to open the band could be a positive step for consumers, businesses, and markets.

The FCC announced on Monday, September 16th that it would approve five spectrum access system administrators to begin initial commercial deployments in the 3.5 GHz band.

The companies approved to provide commercial services within the band are Google, Federated Wireless, Commscope, Amdocs, and Sony. This is an important development that will have a substantial impact on the availability of fixed wireless distribution. Some are calling it a game-changer because there are so many possible uses for the band

FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly was quoted as saying “we proudly celebrate CBRS service initiation and the opening of key U.S. mid-band spectrum for exciting new wireless services.  Industry — from start-ups to established companies — are clamoring to begin unlicensed-like service in the band, with the ability to obtain licenses next year.” The CBRS Alliance states that “utilizing shared spectrum can enable both in-building and outdoor coverage and capacity expansion at massive scale.” Service providers sharing spectrum has the potential to realign segments of the market in a way that is more consumer friendly.

There are numerous possibilities for how the approved SAS providers will use the band going forward. CBRS has the potential to substantially improve rural broadband access, fixed wireless distribution, and a number of other areas in the cable industry. Most importantly, CBRS is projected to feature prominently in the coming 5G revolution

Photo credit: Lourdes Muñoz Santamaria (Flickr, CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)