Recently, CBRS and shared spectrum solutions have become the darling of the in-building wireless world. At a simplistic level, CBRS is envisioned to use standardized LTE technology propagated over unlicensed, or lightly licensed spectrum to build private wireless networks that can be managed either by an MNO, neutral host, or, even a tenant within a building. Where this scheme becomes attractive from a cost perspective is that because the networks are inherently small in scale (i.e., within a building or campus location) the radio equipment costs should be much more akin to deploying Wi-Fi equipment; think: the cost of small cell base stations vs. a macro base station.
However, because a CBRS network would be running in dedicated spectrum, using standardized LTE equipment, there will be less interference issues compared to Wi-Fi, and greater predictability in version control and network operations compared to proprietary wireless solutions. What’s more, as a technology rooted in LTE, CBRS promises to follow a similar evolution path as technology developed for macro networks. In other words, investments in CBRS today are being seen as being able to prepare for 5G adoption.
Flexible spectrum options is key to massive device support
All this becomes important because spectrum considerations are a material piece of the in-building wireless equation as it relates to preparing a network of today to handle the 5G requirements of tomorrow. This means being able to support a variety of spectrum options to enable the capacity and density needed to handle the potential of up to tens of thousands of devices inside a building’s four walls. In any case, however, what this will mean in practice is that interest will be high in the ability to use lightly licensed and/or shared spectrum schemes in order to gain access do dedicated airwaves at a lower cost than would be possible by using only the spectrum available to licensed mobile operators.
Circling back to the point above, using shared spectrum options via CBRS to deploy small cells equipment that can support software upgrade paths to enabling operations in mid-band spectrum will be one key way of making sure that investments in radio capacity today will not be stranded as network densification requirements increase in line with IoT proliferation, etc.
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