While much industry attention is focussed on 5G, we take another quick progress check on CBRS, the pioneering cellular project soon to launch across the USA. We spoke with Iyad Tarazi, President and CEO of Federated Wireless who shares his insights on current progress and several exciting recent developments.
What’s your latest estimate for CBRS commercial availability?
My best guess is for Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) to commence between April and June. We are targeting some 16,000 sites through 25 customers in 50 states.
That will be quickly followed by certification and full nationwide deployment during Q2/Q3.
Recent delays have been due to the recent US government shutdown and other factors. Nonetheless, visible milestones continue to be achieved.
Our own SAS (Spectrum Access System) has been thoroughly tested and the associated ESC (Electronic Sensor Capability) widely deployed on both East and West coasts.
Network equipment including more than a dozen small cells (CBSDs) have been certified and approved through the OnGo test labs.
Seven vendors have been approved for CPE (Customer Premises Equipment) suitable for fixed wireless services. Sierra Wireless Band 48 modules for Enterprise devices like laptops and Cradlepoint Band 48 devices for IIoT open up a huge range of potential equipment that can be wirelessly enabled.
Mainstream smartphones with CBRS compatibility are becoming available such as the Samsung Galaxy S10 and Google Pixel 3. There is a dual-SIM pathway available for both Android and iPhones.
Which markets are showing most promise?
CBRS appeals to a number of different market segments. Those requiring widespread smartphone compatibility are likely to take longer to mature, while private networks with dedicated and/or fixed terminals could move more quickly. We are seeing strong interest across the board.
The two segments most likely to be early adopters are fixed wireless networks providing wireless broadband and existing cellular networks using the spectrum for densification.
Moving rapidly behind is Enterprise with vertical markets, OEM, end devices and software Apps. We have already seen a lot of specialised devices, handhelds and terminals. More handsets are coming this year that will be capable of supporting private networks.
Thereafter, we also see Cable TV (MSO) engagement. Cable companies main use case is indoor offload. These companies typically offer an MVNO service today and want to handle more of the cellular traffic on their network. Their engagement and adoption of CBRS is high. They have already solved many technical problems but a lot of operational work remains to get to full deployment. I’d anticipate around late 2019 or early 2020. They are committed and have a solution.
What has surprised me the most is that the timescales between these market segments is compressing and moving more quickly.
What’s being done to simplify deployment and accelerate take-up?
Ideally CBRS small cells will be very straightforward to install – plug-and-play.
Some customers still want to buy hardened expensive “big core” network products but the market is moving towards cheaper, scalable solutions.
To accelerate this, Federated Wireless can provide a core network in the cloud, and will enable “one click” deployment of CBRS that is pre-integrated, 3GPP compliant and supports roaming. We already have 20 OEMs in our partner program, with more coming. We offer IOT testing, advanced testing and documentation. We will extend this offer to core and edge vendors too.
This will be a low cost, highly scalable solution using a simplified EPC with a focus on rapid deployment rather than an extended feature set.
We’ve joined with Vapor IO, Packet, MobileEdgeX and others to form the Kinetic Edge Alliance. They have ambitious plans to deploy edge data centres in 30 cities (6 this year), so that our vertical network partners can quickly and easily deploy solutions.
Edge applications offer huge scope for innovation, so Packet and Federated Wireless also recently announced a Wireless Test Kitchen, working together to bring more developers into development environments that can turn on servers very quickly, and wireless networks in days. The Test Kitchen will launch this month in Boston.
When can we expect seamless roaming with mainstream cellular networks?
The methods for switching seamlessly between major cellular networks and private CBRS is still evolving. There aren’t enough deployments yet to drive discussions with carriers, but we are working with handset vendors so that end users can choose to use a private network. The dual-SIM pathway will be a good first step.
The business model for seamless commercial roaming between private CBRS and public networks is just not there yet today and the real discussion for that starts in a year or so.
Meanwhile, cable companies main use case is for indoor offload where both engagement and adoption are high. They have solved many tech problems but there remains a lot of operational work to do prior to widespread deployment.
I’d anticipate late 2019 or early 2020. They are committed and have a viable solution.