Google and Federated Wireless aren’t the only companies building out CBRS SAS (Spectrum Access System). I spoke with Mark Gibson of CommScope, which is well on track to launch service next year, too. He shared his perspective of the CBRS market, clarified likely timescales as well as how and where we are likely to see it rolled out.
With a turnover of almost $5 Billion, CommScope is one of the largest independent players in the cellular industry, supplying hardware such as tower antennas, fibre transmission and connectivity for both cellular and wireline operators. Its portfolio includes both DAS and in-building small cells (acquired from Airvana) and in general its equipment is compatible with all cellular equipment vendors. Major acquisitions in the past have included Andrew Corporation (2007) and TE Connectivity’s Broadband Network Solutions (2015).
CommScope acquired Comsearch as part of the Andrew acquisition, a company which has been working on spectrum management and engineering for 40 years. This business unit already had a dynamic spectrum solution, and has developed a fully capable CBRS SAS (Spectrum Access System) with ESC (Environmental Sensing Capability). This is the central controlling database that assigns specific frequencies and RF power levels to individual CBRS small cells nationwide.
I spoke with Mark Gibson, Director of Business Development for their CBRS SAS, to find out his perspective on the market.
How mature is the CBRS eco-system? How close are we to commercial launch?
We’re still some months away. Every SAS system needs to go through a certification process which will be done by ITS (Institute for Telecommunication Sciences), part of the NTIA, operating on behalf of the FCC. Every SAS supplier will have their equipment (including Environmental Sensors) tested in their lab, they’ll write a report and in due course the commission will issue formal certification. The testing of the SAS and the ESC components could be done separately or in parallel.
CBRS Small Cells (CSBDs) will be certified by the CTIA, on behalf of the CBRS Alliance and of course by the FCC. CBRS smartphones and data dongles will use existing approval methods, demonstrating compatibility with Band 48 frequency assignment.
CommScope is well-advanced with our Environmental Sensors and ready to go through certification today, but we will probably have to certify the SAS first. The actual certification timeframes have been a little bit of a moving target. However I’m very optimistic that we could have full commercial service by Q3 2018. There is a lot of industry momentum behind CBRS today, and everybody is driving hard to bring this to market.
How many SAS providers will there be and how will they interwork?
The FCC formally approved seven companies to develop SAS solutions and most are working to develop commercial solutions and pass certification. Ultimately there may be fewer actually certified, but we’ll have to see.
FCC rules and related standards require that all SAS systems provide the same basic capabilities. Each will have to access an ESC and build up its own internal spectrum model and database.
Some initial data will be exchanged to start, thereafter incrementally with periodic full data dumps. It’s not a huge amount of data and the specifications define what’s required. For example, each SAS will compute a protection area for every PAL (Priority Access Licensee) that it assigns and share that result with other databases. SASs will also share specific information about CBSDs including location and configuration data.
I think this approach will work well. It’s really in the interests of all SAS providers that the system works efficiently.
Where will the Environmental Sensors be deployed?
These are the radio receivers that continuously monitor Naval Radar operations without determining the actual locations of the radars. ESC sensors will mostly be deployed along the coasts since most of the radars operate on board aircraft carriers.
CBRS service should be possible inland in places like Dallas without having to depend on ESC deployment, but rules require at least some certified ESC deployment before SASs can operate anywhere. ESCs may not be needed for as much as 60% of the continental land area, so we may see some of the first rollouts here once SASs have been certified.
ESCs will probably be sited as close to the coasts as possible to mitigate the potential for interference from CBSDs operating in front of the ESC antennas. Most of us have a similar philosophy and we are designing our ESC network, considering and prioritising the high value market areas first.
Do you expect indoor or outdoor deployment first?
There are two categories of CBRS small cell (or CSBD to give the standard name):
- Category A: Mostly used indoors and with lower RF power. This is what some would have called a femtocell in the past, which could be for residential or enterprise use. It is possible to deploy outdoors too, but with lower mast height below 6m (18 ft).
- Category B: Outdoor use only and higher RF power. We can expect these could be co-located with existing cell towers or standalone small cells. This is going to be useful in rural areas too.
Category A can be self-installed while professional installers must be used for Category B.
The SAS will need to know exactly where each CBSD is installed. This will most often be done by an onboard GPS receiver reporting its location for Cat A or through the professional installation for Cat B.
Given that Cat A CBSDs should be easier to install, we could see some initial CBSD deployments as Cat A, but Cat B deployment shouldn’t lag far behind.
Is the CBRS concept feasible outside the USA?
Many other regions are looking closely and waiting to see how this works out. If successful then it’s quite probable it could be replicated elsewhere. SAS provides good co-existence and efficient use of spectrum compared with Wi-Fi. While some look askew at the concept of a centralised spectrum allocation, if it works then I think they’ll warm up to the notion.
Investing in SAS technology is much cheaper than re-equipping existing users of the spectrum, and can be implemented quite quickly.
Lastly, why do you think CBRS will be a success for CommScope?
We’ve made significant investments in the solution and truly believe in it – it’s not just a research project. We’ve been closely involved with the standards development and can see the strong market demand for the solution. Our heritage and extensive wireless expertise positions us as a highly reliable, trusted business partner.
Our software solution is entirely cloud based, running on one of the large and well-known cloud service providers. This ensures high availability, scalability, resilience and redundancy. We’ve used the latest software techniques including virtualisation combined with expertise from many years of wireless spectrum planning.
You can expect to see many more and larger CBRS trials in the coming months.
For more information about CommScope’s SAS Solution, visit their website.