We live in a collaborative and shared economy where more and more consumers and businesses value “access” over “ownership.” After the major impact in consumer services caused by business models such as Uber and Airbnb, the collaborative consumption model is finding its way into mobile telecommunication networks and services. Wireless spectrum, which has traditionally been exclusively allocated, is now being disrupted by the spectrum-sharing model offered by the 3.5 GHz CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) band. While the licensed spectrum is not going away, the interest CBRS is generating in the wireless community certainly ushers in a new era of network-driven innovation by large MNOs, fixed network operations, neutral host providers, wireless Internet service providers (WISPs), and even enterprises.
CBRS promises a wide variety of use cases, but to understand it in an overarching and longer-term context, let’s look at the following two broad use cases, which cover the benefits from the perspective of large mobile network operators (MNOs), small wireless providers, and non-telco service providers.
Use Case 1: Solving the Capacity & Coverage Challenge for Big MNOs
MNOs are always looking to add coverage and capacity to enable new services, ensure quality of experience, and maintain market leadership, but the incremental investment in spectrum and networks does not always lead to an equivalent increase in ARPU (average revenue per user)—a major challenge for MNOs. MNOs are focused on finding and deploying technologies that help reducing the cost per bit of delivering mobile broadband services or, drive increased ARPU. CBRS has the potential to do both by helping them cost-effectively improve their outdoor coverage and capacity. 150 MHz of favorable LTE-based secure, reliable, and inexpensive spectrum comes with great benefits. Operators can combine licensed spectrum with CBRS band to augment capacity and free up valuable licensed spectrum at a lower cost per bit.
On the other hand, providing high-quality ubiquitous indoor wireless coverage is an equally big challenge for MNOs. Nearly 70% of U.S. smartphone data consumption is on Wi-Fi—a large amount of traffic that MNOs have limited control to monetize. The U.S. has a large untapped in-building wireless market within buildings and structures that are less than 500,000 sq. feet. Deploying a DAS (distributed antenna system) in these buildings doesn’t always make economic sense. CBRS creates a much better cost-effective alternative for MNOs to build robust indoor wireless coverage for these buildings and thereby 1) create a potential competitive offering over other service providers and 2) find new monetization opportunities such as managed private LTE services in the enterprise segment.
Use Case 2: New Opportunities for New Players
CBRS opens opportunities for new types of wireless operators and even non-telcos such as neutral hosts and enterprises. With CBRS, service providers and enterprises will be able to build LTE networks to serve small or underserved communities or build private LTE networks to serve industries’ niche requirements.
Take the case of the rural telecom companies, the network of 850 small community-based companies and cooperatives providing voice and broadband services to rural communities across the U.S. These companies believe that CBRS will be critical for their fixed wireless operations and, hence, critical for closing the rural broadband gap. Many of these rural-focused wireless ISPs (WISPs) have wanted to scale up their business for years, but lack of spectrum has stemmed their plans. Access to the CBRS spectrum could change that.
Likewise, cable operators in the U.S. are finding CBRS a very attractive option, as it enables them to build their own small cell-based LTE services and offload a large portion of the mobile traffic to their own networks, thereby saving on MNO network rentals and licenses.
On the other hand, enterprises have traditionally been on the receiving end of using wireless services. Many enterprises have wanted to deploy private LTE networks, but they have largely been constrained by a lack of spectrum, high costs, and low availability of such services. CBRS lets them build their own LTE networks to run applications and services (for example, Industrial IoT, secure communications, augmented and virtual reality applications, cloud-based services) that require an assured level of network performance (like guaranteed low latency), stringent privacy, and business continuity across locations. Utility companies with advanced metering infrastructure (AMI), government agencies, manufacturing units, oil and gas industries, large construction facilities, and large public venues are some great candidates for CBRS-based LTE networks.
The enterprise market may take shape in a couple of ways, such as, DIY (Do-it-Yourself) approach where the private LTE initiative is led by IT organizations of larger enterprises, OR alternatively as managed services offered to the enterprise by a 3rd party. The managed service provider (MSP) could be a VAR, SIs, telco operator, Neutral host providers, or even open doors to new players. All this creates the possibility of the U.S. being dotted with hundreds of private LTE networks over the next few years in a similar fashion to how Wi-Fi has proliferated all over.
Besides CBRS, many competing and complimentary technologies, such as LWIP, LSA, LAA, and 5G NR lead to solutions addressing similar challenges. It’s too early to say whether CBRS will be a home run, but it certainly has great potential and an important role to play in the next generation’s wireless networks. At Samsung, we are committed to providing the best wireless technologies to all service providers and enterprises, as well as helping them redefine the connected experience for users.