BY MIKE COLLADO
Principal Consultant, Wireless 20/20
Like it or not, evolutionary and revolutionary changes are afoot within the wireless industry. From megatrends which have pervasive tidal wave effects to sector-specific trends that have smaller ripple effects, these changes will present seemingly contradictory implications for the in-building ecosystem.
As organizations plan for 2017 and beyond, they must focus the right groups on the right things at the right times.
This multi-part series examines five key trends and how they’ll impact the in-building wireless ecosystem in 2017 and beyond. Related, we will forecast when each trend will be felt by the industry and advise which key functional areas (R&D, Marketing, Sales) should be focused on it in 2017.
First up was 5G. Next, it’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS).
Using Shared Spectrum to Enable Others to Connect to the Mobile Core Network
Earlier this year, the FCC opened 150 megahertz of spectrum (3550-3700 MHz) for commercial use. Known as CBRS, the band is located partly in the 3GPP TDD Band 42, and partly in TDD Band 43.
Its backers, which include Ericsson, Federated Wireless, Google, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and Ruckus (part of Brocade), envision an industry ecosystem that leverages shared spectrum to deliver LTE-based solutions on a massive scale and serve as a catalyst for 5G. Simply stated, CBRS represents a new frontier of change.
CBRS addresses – among other things – coverage and capacity indoors as well as outdoors in dense urban environments. Notably, it enables enterprises, neutral host service providers and large venue owners to become mobile virtual network operators (MVNOs) and deploy carrier-grade LTE networks on which mobile subscribers can roam. It’s a win-win-win: unresolved and underserved venues and locations benefit from having wireless service; subscribers benefit from a high quality of service experience; and carriers theoretically benefit from a significantly cost-effective shared network, which provides an expanded network footprint.
As pragmatic as CBRS sounds, there exists several important obstacles. First, carrier approvals remain forthcoming to connect these networks to the core network. In addition, commercial Spectrum Allocation Server (SAS) administrators have yet to be appointed by the FCC to prioritize, assign and manage frequencies licensed within the 3.5 GHz band. Last, CBRS chipsets must be incorporated in smartphones. When the first carrier approves, expect other carriers to follow suit. Meanwhile, SAS vendors are currently in interoperability testing. Look for CBRS chipsets in smartphones as soon as six months but more likely 18 months.
A Key to Unlock and Address In-Building Wireless Markets
Although clear answers do not currently exist, CBRS has the potential to reshape parts of the in-building wireless ecosystem landscape in profound ways:
· Venue owners will be able to control their own cellular destiny and no longer depend on the carriers or third parties to bring service to the building. Instead, the venue owner will pay a nominal annual subscription to operate their own private CBRS network in return for possible revenue sharing from the operators in the form of modest roaming fees.
· The neutral host model will be reimagined as no longer the owner and operator of multiple networks at a single location, but, instead, as a consolidator of many CBRS networks into the core networks.
· DAS and Small Cell OEMs will innovate products to deploy CBRS networks indoors and outdoors. CBRS small cells will feed DAS head ends and use the distribution efficiencies of DAS for indoor deployments in certain enterprise venues that require multi-operator support. Meanwhile, small cells will evolve from single-operator to multi-operator, and offer the value proposition of low total cost of ownership and ease of deployment to address smaller enterprise venues as well as dense urban outdoor applications.
· Lines will continue to blur between in-building cellular networks and Wi-Fi networks including infrastructure sharing as well as convergence of small cell radios and access points.
· Systems integrators and installers will be in demand to deploy and maintain equipment to meet demand within unresolved and underserved market segments such as the Tier 2 (also known as the Enterprise or Middleprise).
Timeframes and Stakeholder Focus
CBRS is still nascent. However, with strong support from ecosystem stakeholders that represent carriers, the core network, smartphone chipsets, neutral hosts and OEMs, it’s likely that CBRS is poised to accelerate in the United States and begin to have an impact on the in-building wireless industry in about three years from now. Expect other countries to also adopt the shared spectrum model.
Therefore, of the key functional areas within in-building ecosystem organizations, R&D should be well engaged in 2017 to develop and execute on product roadmaps to support CBRS and/or interoperability testing. Marketing should be sharing the roadmap with the analyst community but not yet promoting among the distribution channel.
In summary, CBRS is going to usher evolutionary and revolutionary change that can manifest as either opportunity or threat to participants within the in-building ecosystem depending on how they position themselves. Will your organization be prepared?
Next trend: Public-Safety Communications and e911 Location.
Mike Collado helps companies win mindshare and capture marketshare. He is a Principal Consultant at Wireless 20/20 and former Vice President of Marketing at SOLiD. He also serves as a strategic advisor for both industry and nonprofit organizations and is an author, blogger and frequent speaker at wireless industry events. Contact him at email@example.com.