We spoke with Chris Stark, Chairman of the CBRS Alliance, for an update on the progress that CBRS (and its brand name OnGo) have been making. He is optimistic that initial commercial deployment will be live before year end. Recent FCC filings by the SAS providers apply throughout more than 47 states, covering both indoor and outdoor solutions.
How is the Alliance itself progressing?
Launched just two years ago, we have already grown to more than 100 members recruited from diverse aspects of the ecosystem, and I expect we will continue to expand as the system enters its commercial phase. We have held a number of popular plenary events alongside our working groups, which have active member participation.
At the behest of our members, we’ve recently created a new deployment and operations working group supported by the operator community within our membership. This will be looking at the more practical issues, everything from cell siting, to integration alongside existing equipment through to roaming arrangements. Participants include both traditional (MNOs) and new carriers (such as the cable MSOs) as well as the emerging neutral host companies.
We recently conducted an “interop” test event (some would call this a PlugFest) in Boulder, Colorado with really great results. There was a 98% test completion rate with good participation from member companies including five SAS administrators, (small cell) device manufacturers (known as CBSDs) and end user devices. We saw the entire system working well end-to-end.
The five SAS vendors were (in alphabetical order): Amdocs, CommScope, Google, Federated Wireless and Sony.
This is just one of a series in an ongoing program with more scheduled for next quarter. We are doing our utmost to ensure everything is in place to begin commercial deployment during Q4.
We’ve spent a lot of time with the FCC and its commissioners. The current FCC timeframe is for an initial commercial deployment phase (ICD) to start soon while other activities progress. There’s no need to wait for the PAL (Priority Access Licence) auction procedures to be fully in place before we start operation with the GAA (General Authorised Access) mode. We are pushing for ICD to start in November and believe there is a lot of support to achieve that.
Our proposal for ICD is to avoid the Dynamic Protection Areas so that there would be no impact on the Department of Defense (who operate naval radar in the same frequency bands as CBRS in coastal areas). This initial deployment would allow us to demonstrate successful operation and sharing in a non-threatening way to the incumbent users of the spectrum.
The SAS companies filed their ICD deployment plans on September 10, and my understanding is that these provide for some decently sized networks. Applications cover more than 47 states and involve both indoor and outdoor installations.
To achieve the ICD milestone, all of the SAS systems will require verification and initial test with ITS (the FCC designated test centre). This process is ongoing now and the aim is to have FCC approval for initial test completion by end October.
CBRS Small Cells are known as CBSDs.
Arris/Ruckus Wireless have just announced they were the first to achieve FCC certification for their CBSD, with at least another 2-3 vendors following closely behind.
The FCC certification step is a cornerstone of the OnGo branded certification procedure. The Alliance launched a formal OnGo certification program earlier in the year, with eight test labs worldwide signed up.
That process has been debugged and refined and right now it looks like the first OnGo product certification will be announced in October.
End user devices
CBRS devices can be anything from USB dongles to smartphones to embedded IoT equipment. These will have standard LTE radios that support Band 48 (the CBRS frequency), but otherwise are almost identical to LTE equipment operating in any other band.
Certification follows the same technical testing for this different frequency. Equipment must also be Part 96 compliant (i.e. include minor CBRS specific requirements).
First, we saw modems that supported the frequency and the ecosystem has grown from there. Dongles already exist and even some tablets are starting to come through. Nokia has tested Band 48 modems and I believe handsets will be available from end 2018. Verizon publicly announced back in April that they intend to have compatible handsets by then.
There is a complete cross section of device types involved. Where devices are not yet available, we are seeing spec sheets and ordering guides circulating.
Fundamental driver for innovation
We want to emphasise that CBRS is not just another LTE frequency band, but a platform for innovation. I hope this spawns a ton of new ideas that can demonstrate to the world what is possible. We will soon be in the next phase where we will find out just how broad and innovative the solutions can be.
Nokia have put enormous effort in to the ecosystem but credit should also go to Ericsson, Arris/Ruckus, all the SAS companies, Qualcomm and Intel (to name but a few).
CBRS has been a hard project to develop, extremely hard. We’ve benefitted from some really great contributors from both the WinnForum and CBRS Alliance who have made continual progress. The support from industry for this band has been incredible and this continues to provide the encouragement to the Alliance to get this over the goal line.