• United States

CBRS wireless can bring private 5G directly to enterprises

News Analysis
Feb 25, 20204 mins
MobileNetworkingSmall and Medium Business

Citizens Broadband Radio Service could be a boon for enterprise mobile edge computing and help supplement wireless coverage where Wi-Fi falls short.

wireless connection / connection speed / connectivity bars c/ ell tower
Credit: Thinkstock

The recently available Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) opens up new opportunities for enterprises to deploy private 4G and 5G networks, which can prove especially helpful in mobile edge-computing deployments.

CBRS is well suited for enterprises with critical communications requirements spread out over wide geographic areas that include convention centers, sport stadiums, mines, ports, farms and manufacturing plants.

CBRS provides significant benefits over Wi-Fi in some applications where guaranteed quality of service and security are necessary, but it is likely to be complementary to Wi-Fi in many situations. Many early enterprise deployments will include CBRS from the WAN to the router and Wi-Fi from the access point to the IoT device.  Over time, many access points will support both CBRS and Wi-Fi communications.

Other possible CBRS uses include:

  • Remote-vehicle, robot and equipment control
  • Communications for security teams
  • Communications with public-safety vehicles
  • Computers-on-wheels in health care
  • Connected high-definition video-surveillance cameras that generate huge amounts of data.

Vertical applications include airports, amusement parks, railroads, oil/gas extraction facilities, factories, hotels and elements of smart cities.

CBRS is best suited for mission-critical applications and as such would not be used in place of general Wi-Fi services like guest Wi-Fi. In new CBRS deployments, most organizations are likely to continue using Wi-Fi and public cellular services.

Private cellular networks

Building private cellular networks with CBRS provides a number of benefits:

  • Control of network capacity
  • Highly predictable performance thanks to limited interference
  • Coverage of large, remote areas that are hard or expensive to serve with Wi-Fi
  • Improved security because data is kept within a private network
  • Low-latency connectivity for mission-critical applications

Implementation of a wide area network via CBRS can also be less expensive than other options such as Wi-Fi or public cellular services, depending on geography, coverage and data use.

Challenges of CBRS

CBRS requires routers, phones, tablets, cameras and IoT devices that support it, so deployment calls for investment in new equipment. Most new high-end mobile phones support CBRS, but this is very recent, and most organizations will require handset upgrades to take advantage of it. Current costs of CBRS equipment are higher than Wi-Fi but will likely come down over time. As the supplier ecosystem matures, CBRS will become more attractive to enterprise buyers..

Enterprises will also need channel partners to help with implementation, which includes determining the number and location of radios.  Many partners have existing Wi-Fi expertise but will need training and experience to rapidly deploy CBRS in enterprises. 

CBRS is only available in the US now, although this is likely to change as more countries allocate unlicensed spectrum, probably in different bands than in the US.

The Federal Communications Commission recently designated the CBRS band from 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz for public use. Previously it was reserved for certain military uses and for satellite ground stations. Now that band can be shared by three classes of users:

  • Incumbent: This tier guarantees that users who traditionally held exclusive rights to the band can still use it without interference from users in the other two tiers.
  • Priority access: Licenses will be issued county-by-county to winners of spectrum auctions scheduled for June 25. Winners of the licensed channels will have exclusive rights to them in their geographic areas but must protect against interfering with incumbent users as well as tolerate interference from the incumbents.
  • General authorized access: This tier does not require an FCC license but allows use so long as it doesn’t interfere with the other two tiers and tolerates interference from them.

Expect CBRS to grow in popularity for mobile edge computing, especially in highly distributed and mobile applications. Distributed enterprises with these specific needs should investigate CBRS, especially during their next Wi-Fi upgrade cycle. 

lee doyle

Lee Doyle is principal analyst at Doyle Research, providing client-focused targeted analysis on the evolution of intelligent networks. He has over 25 years’ experience analyzing the IT, network, and telecom markets. Lee has written extensively on such topics as SDN, SD-WAN, NFV, enterprise adoption of networking technologies, and IT-Telecom convergence. Before founding Doyle Research, Lee was group vice president for network, telecom, and security research at IDC. Lee holds a B.A. in economics from Williams College.

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