CBRS Opens-Up 3.5 MHz Mid-Band Spectrum to New Users

Last week, we saw the formal start of Initial Commercial Deployment (ICD) of the 3.5 MHz Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) spectrum band in the US. The CBRS band is a 150 MHz slice of spectrum available for use on a shared and unlicensed basis. The spectrum is divided into three tiers – Tier 1, which is used by incumbents such as the Navy, Department of Defense and by military satellites, and two lower tiers, which are allocated for commercial use (Exhibit 1).

Applicants can apply for a Tier-2 Priority Access License (PAL), a renewable 10-year license to use one or more 10MHz channels within the 3,500-3,650MHz portion of the band, in a limited geographical area. They can also apply for Tier-3 General Authorised Access (GAA), which is unlicensed, like Wi-Fi, and provides a dynamic allocation of the available 100MHz channels so that access does not interfere with communications in the two upper tiers.

Certification and full commercial services are expected to start in Q4 2019 after the 30-day ICD period is successfully concluded. To date, only GAA licenses have been issued, and the auctioning of PAL licenses is not expected until mid-2020. Further, 5G shared spectrum services are also scheduled to begin in 2020 following the publication of the CBRS Alliance’s Release 3 specifications in Q4 2019.

The CBRS 3-tier Spectrum Sharing Architecture
Picture Credit: Lanner

Exhibit 1: The CBRS 3-tier Spectrum Sharing Architecture

The major attraction of the CBRS band is that it will allow a wide range of companies – from cable companies, wireless and fixed telecom operators to a host of commercial and industrial companies – to develop, build and operate their own wireless networks without the involvement of the “Big 4” mobile operators. For example, the CBRS band can support business models for indoor, small cell deployments funded and owned by enterprises themselves. Meanwhile, GAA licenses are especially well-suited for private networks as they combine the best of both LTE and Wi-Fi networks, i.e. they offer traffic management, security, reliability plus low latency.

Companies eyeing opportunities in this band include Amazon, Google, Motorola, and Nokia as well as many industrial enterprises looking to use the spectrum to build LTE and later 5G private networks for IoT, IIoT (Industrial IoT) and other applications.

Amazon has tested a private IoT network designed to support devices such as real-time surveillance cameras and smart meters, with several partners. Federated Wireless, cable company Charter Communications, and Landmark Dividend want to build private LTE networks while Motorola wants to use the band for its MotoTrbo service. Other companies involved include Google, Facebook, Nokia, and Microsoft, as well as Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The ‘Big 4’ MNOs are also heavily engaged as the band will enable them to increase capacity by combining transmission in the CBRS band with other licensed spectrum bands via carrier aggregation technology. They could also use CBRS to boost their network performance by using it as a kind of interim low latency alternative or complement to Wi-Fi prior to the widespread deployment of 5G. In-building CBRS networks will also likely be connected to the operators’ public 5G networks for seamless interoperability.

Verizon is particularly keen on the band. Although it owns significant amounts of mmWave spectrum, it lacks sufficient mid-band spectrum and has been testing both commercial and private mobile networks for several months, particularly the use of indoor/outdoor small cells. The company is already offering CBRS-capable devices to its customers, including the latest Apple iPhone 11 handsets, Samsung Galaxy S10 and Google Pixel 3. Meanwhile, AT&T is keen to use the band for fixed wireless Internet services to rural customers and expects to start services in late Q4 2019.

Although there is tremendous interest in using the band, ultimately, its success will depend on a number of factors. Top of the list, however, will be the ability of the spectrum sharing system (administered by Federated Wireless, CommScope, Google, and Nokia) to protect the access of Tier 1 incumbent users. Although multiple trials have taken place, it will take some time to determine whether spectrum sharing works as envisaged. If it does not, then this is potentially a major issue, as most of the Tier 1 users are located along the US coastline, where the majority of the population live and where the demand for CBRS spectrum is likely to be highest.

Pioneered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and commercial US wireless companies, the CBRS dynamic spectrum sharing model is being closely watched by regulators around the world. If successful, it will likely be implemented outside the US. Together with other similar systems under development elsewhere (such as ETSI’s Licensed Shared Access), spectrum sharing could potentially open up swathes of lightly used spectrum bands around the world for new applications. Counterpoint Research believes that this will dramatically change the wireless landscape, for example, by accelerating the deployment of wireless networks by non-MNO companies.  In future, dynamic spectrum sharing is likely to become the norm rather than the exception in underutilized and unlicensed spectrum bands, but is unlikely to be used in mobile licensed bands.

Gareth has been a technology analyst for over 20 years and has compiled research reports and market share/forecast studies on a range of topics, including wireless technologies, AI & computing, automotive, smartphone hardware, sensors and semiconductors, digital broadcasting and satellite communications.

Term of Use and Privacy Policy

Counterpoint Technology Market Research Limited


In order to access Counterpoint Technology Market Research Limited (Company or We hereafter) Web sites, you may be asked to complete a registration form. You are required to provide contact information which is used to enhance the user experience and determine whether you are a paid subscriber or not.
Personal Information When you register on we ask you for personal information. We use this information to provide you with the best advice and highest-quality service as well as with offers that we think are relevant to you. We may also contact you regarding a Web site problem or other customer service-related issues. We do not sell, share or rent personal information about you collected on Company Web sites.

How to unsubscribe and Termination

You may request to terminate your account or unsubscribe to any email subscriptions or mailing lists at any time. In accessing and using this Website, User agrees to comply with all applicable laws and agrees not to take any action that would compromise the security or viability of this Website. The Company may terminate User’s access to this Website at any time for any reason. The terms hereunder regarding Accuracy of Information and Third Party Rights shall survive termination.

Website Content and Copyright

This Website is the property of Counterpoint and is protected by international copyright law and conventions. We grant users the right to access and use the Website, so long as such use is for internal information purposes, and User does not alter, copy, disseminate, redistribute or republish any content or feature of this Website. User acknowledges that access to and use of this Website is subject to these TERMS OF USE and any expanded access or use must be approved in writing by the Company.
– Passwords are for user’s individual use
– Passwords may not be shared with others
– Users may not store documents in shared folders.
– Users may not redistribute documents to non-users unless otherwise stated in their contract terms.

Changes or Updates to the Website

The Company reserves the right to change, update or discontinue any aspect of this Website at any time without notice. Your continued use of the Website after any such change constitutes your agreement to these TERMS OF USE, as modified.
Accuracy of Information: While the information contained on this Website has been obtained from sources believed to be reliable, We disclaims all warranties as to the accuracy, completeness or adequacy of such information. User assumes sole responsibility for the use it makes of this Website to achieve his/her intended results.

Third Party Links: This Website may contain links to other third party websites, which are provided as additional resources for the convenience of Users. We do not endorse, sponsor or accept any responsibility for these third party websites, User agrees to direct any concerns relating to these third party websites to the relevant website administrator.

Cookies and Tracking

We may monitor how you use our Web sites. It is used solely for purposes of enabling us to provide you with a personalized Web site experience.
This data may also be used in the aggregate, to identify appropriate product offerings and subscription plans.
Cookies may be set in order to identify you and determine your access privileges. Cookies are simply identifiers. You have the ability to delete cookie files from your hard disk drive.