Iyad Tarazi, CEO of Federated Wireless, knows a thing or two about Small Cells. In 2007 when at Sprint, he launched the world’s first residential femtocell service (Airave) that has seen millions of units deployed throughout the US. He explained to me how he has helped shape the CBRS ecosystem, what part Federated Wireless plays in it, and predicts the timeline for deployment.
Who is Federated Wireless and why did you join them?
Federated Wireless was founded in 2012, based in Arlington Virginia, and has raised $34 million in funding to date. Our mission has been to enable a full end-to-end ecosystem for CBRS. We have developed a Spectrum Controller, a new product category that provides dynamic spectrum management to enable spectrum sharing in CBRS small cell deployments.
I was attracted to this role at Federated Wireless partly because I had become frustrated with the limits of what I could achieve with Small Cells in a mainstream operator business environment. In the many years since Airave was first deployed, femtocell and small cell technology has evolved tremendously and offers huge potential for growth.
There have been many barriers that previously hindered growth such as the large and costly integration between suppliers and network back-office systems. The CBRS architecture and ecosystem removes almost all of these constraints, making small cells very competitive and introducing significant technology advantages over Wi-Fi.
How did you approach CBRS development?
It wasn’t simply about developing our own standalone product.
First, there needed to be clearly defined standards and a regulatory process including streamlined approval. There are now two complementary organisations addressing that:
- The WInnForum (Wireless Innovation Forum) Spectrum Sharing Committee formed two and a half years ago which I co-chaired with Google. This translated the FCC regulations into implementable standards. The organisation worked with all the big equipment vendors and major component vendors, finalising the minimum required standards in December 2016.
- The CBRS Alliance addresses the specific 3.5GHz frequency band allocated by the FCC throughout the US. Federated Wireless helped write its charter, and bring the team together just over a year ago. The goal is to commercialise the system, finishing off any industry standards issues and developing viable business models, ensuring that the standards are well known and allowing manufacturing to begin. The Alliance intends to create a formal interoperability test structure to allow products to become certified after straightforward lab testing. There are 41 members to date including the major US mobile network operators and all the Cable companies. It may take a little time to work through all the potential use cases and business models but the foundation technology is now well proven.
When will your part of the solution be ready for commercial operation?
Our spectrum controller has been widely tested and will be ready for commercial launch in Q3 this year. We’ve fully integrated with 15 OEMs and small cell vendors including Nokia, Ericsson, Ruckus, and SpiderCloud, with another 10 vendors in progress. For compliant equipment, the interoperability testing can be completed and signed off in as little as two days. Our spectrum controller includes both the Spectrum Access System (SAS) and the Environment Sensing Capability (ESC) specified by the FCC for securely sharing the 3.5 GHz spectrum among Federal incumbents, short term licensees, and general commercial users.
The ESC (Environmental Sensing Capability) – a series of remote sensors distributed around the country – has been fully tested and verified. Manufacturing is about to start and we are currently selecting site installation/development firms. We’ll need between 100 and 150 ESC sites in order to provide initial coverage throughout continental US. The total will grow to perhaps 300 or 400 in the longer term, increasing the precision and fidelity of our spectrum model. The vast majority of these ESC sites will be in coastal areas (where naval radar systems that also use parts of this spectrum are in use), supplemented by sophisticated mathematical models that calculate the impact further inland.
We received conditional approval from the FCC late last year and after further testing, we expect to receive formal FCC certification in about three months - early 2H 2017. By the end of 2017 we expect to be able to support full CBRS spectrum access everywhere throughout continental US.
When will other components of the CBRS solution become available?
There have already been many CBRS capable small cell products demonstrated and we expect them to be commercially available from quite a few vendors during 2H 2017.
We’ve been working closely with the major handset chipset vendors such as Qualcomm and Intel. 3GPP recently allocated a new Band 48 for CBRS and we expect chipsets to be available from Q3 2017 with handsets showing up from mid-2018 from at least one major manufacturer. It may take until 2019 before CBRS is embedded in mainstream laptops.
Standards for Carrier Aggregation (combining LTE spectrum from existing licenced bands with CBRS) are coming. 3GPP must first determine which band combinations to support and publish a set of updated standards.
I’d forecast capability being rolled out in three broad phases:
- 2H 2017: Primarily Fixed Wireless applications using dedicated hardware
- 2018: Mobility, but initially mostly for private/standalone businesses
- 2019: Enterprise and consumer markets, including Home and Consumer gateways. This could include embedded CBRS small cells within Wi-Fi Cable Modems and full interoperability with major cellular networks.
Google and Federated Wireless. A tale of two Clouds
Google has also developed their own SAS solution. We’ve collaborated with them very successfully throughout the project and in December 2016 completed interoperability testing. Their solution runs (not unsurprisingly) on Google Cloud while ours runs on Amazon Cloud. We hold weekly collaboration meetings to resolve potential problems. While we compete in some respects, I’d confirm that they have been very helpful in moving the CBRS ecosystem forward.
Their business model is different from ours. We believe they intend to provide wireless connectivity services directly to consumers, residences and enterprises extending their Google Fiber service. We view ourselves as enablers for other vendors, system integrators and operators, and don’t have any plans to directly sell a service to end-users.
So who are your customers?
Our business model is to sell our service to:
- Existing operators (including MVNOs)
- WISPs (Wireless ISPs)
- New entrants like tower companies for managed neutral host services
- Vendors and system integrators building private LTE solutions for enterprise and industrial IoT
We charge a monthly service fee per access point (i.e. Small Cell), and price ourselves similarly to other IT public cloud services such as security or Wi-Fi controllers. We don’t charge any licence fees for the spectrum itself, although the priority access mode does attract Federal Government fees.
Will your SAS compete with Centralised SON?
We’re not intending to replace in-building planning tools or intelligent SON features built into small cell solutions. Instead, we want to equip those systems operating inside each building with the greatest freedom to use the widest range of allocated spectrum and RF power levels to the best of their abilities.
Our SAS includes a real-time radio environment map. Some might compare this to Centralised SON, but I wouldn’t see it quite that way. It won’t reconfigure/update each small cell as often as a SON might. Our job is to give our partners enough clean spectrum within each building to allow them to maximise use, enabling their own local SON where appropriate.
We want to reuse spectrum as much as possible, as cleanly as possible, so equipment vendors don’t have to work quite as hard in the radio layer or introduce ever more complex mitigation techniques. This should help drive down cost and complexity, establishing long term success for all involved.