By Craig Leddy
Amid all the hoopla over 5G, Wi-Fi 6 and advanced LTE services, another wireless technology is blossoming that promises to provide exciting new options for enterprise businesses.
Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a federally supported wireless capability that is moving toward widespread deployment. Using a swath of 150 MHz of shared spectrum, CBRS provides the means for fixed wireless networks that businesses and institutions can use for private line services to connect multiple facilities or offer customers mobile broadband and wireless applications.
The cable industry is taking keen interest in CBRS, as are other telecommunications providers and technology companies. Charter Communications (aka Spectrum) is testing a CBRS-based fixed wireless service with non-paying customers in a rural part of North Carolina. In New York and Los Angeles, Charter is testing dual-SIM smartphones to explore seamless handoffs between cellular and CBRS small cells. Comcast has tested CBRS for both fixed and mobile service, while Cox and Mediacom also are involved in tests.
Business services figure prominently into providers’ plans. CBRS is “a real door opener” for enterprise business applications, said Craig Cowden, senior VP, wireless technology, for Charter, during a Light Reading event at the recent SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo.
Channel Partners’ “Cable Connection” column focuses on cable provider developments in business services and channel-partner relationships.CBRS Alliance’s Dave Wright
Dave Wright, president of the CBRS Alliance, listed several initial use cases available to cable providers, including offering mobile broadband service, using fixed wireless to extend wireline services and offering private networks and managed services to SMBs and enterprises. The alliance, which counts 149 member companies including Charter, Comcast and Cox, is certifying CBRS equipment solutions under the brand of OnGo.
Without naming names, one technology supplier told me his company is working with several large enterprises seeking to utilize CBRS, including outfits in hospitality, transportation and utilities, each of which are seeking to connect multiple sites wirelessly. Another supplier said stadiums and other large venues are taking interest in CBRS to serve their facilities with wireless broadband. In other quarters, CBRS is being introduced for IoT applications and smart cities.
A CBRS Primer
If you’re unfamiliar with CBRS, the first thing to know is that the CB initials are unrelated to citizens band radio, which popularized trucker communications in the 1970s and prompted cultural expressions such as “10-4, good buddy.” CBRS uses shared spectrum in the 3.5-3.7 GHz band, which is divvied between incumbent users such as the U.S. Navy, a portion to be auctioned in 2020 for priority access licenses (PALs) and an unlicensed portion for general usage.
The mid-band spectrum is attractive because signals can travel for miles and, properly configured, the propagation characteristics enable signals to penetrate through buildings — attributes that some 5G spectrum doesn’t possess. CBRS runs on antennas and small cells and requires far less densification than 5G mmWave (millimeter wave) spectrum, according to engineers.
Google’s Involved, Naturally
In what’s believed to be unprecedented in telecommunications, the federal government has authorized private companies to provide automated systems to coordinate usage of the shared spectrum. In September, the Federal Communications Commission approved initial commercial deployment to five so-called Spectrum Access System (SAS) administrators. It’s an intriguing cast of characters: Google, Sony, CommScope, Amdocs and Federated Wireless. Whenever Google is involved it raises speculation about their intentions; one engineer quipped that it may be another means for Google “to monetize your life.”
While the SAS administrators must coordinate with each other to essentially act as traffic cops to avoid spectrum interference, some already are competing against each other by offering CBRS services and equipment. The SAS companies conceivably could partner with service providers, channel partners and managed service providers to offer a turnkey implementation of setup, services and support.
Service providers can use fixed CBRS to extend their wireline broadband services to areas such as residential new-builds, rural areas, remote industrial facilities or office parks. Midco, a small cable provider operating in Minnesota and North Dakota, has completed CBRS testing and is preparing to launch fixed wireless broadband of up to 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream. Midco also said it was testing a meshing technology that enables Gigabit speeds over fixed wireless.
Technology companies foresee CBRS being integrated with other wireless technologies, including Wi-Fi 6, LTE, 5G, LoRA (long range) and potential future opportunities using C-band spectrum. Wireless convergence is a concept that gets bandied about, although technical integration often is challenging. One way or another, CBRS looks ready to play a key role in the wireless future.
Movers & Shakers
Bill Archer, newly named as EVP and president of Spectrum Enterprise, brings a diverse telecom background. Most recently he’s served as managing director of business at eir Group, a provider of fixed-line and mobile services in Ireland. Prior to joining eir in 2012, he spent more than 30 years at AT&T in business division roles ranging from president of advanced solutions to chief marketing officer.
Archer will oversee product, marketing, sales, operations and strategy and report to Christopher Winfrey, Charter’s chief financial officer, based in Charter’s Stamford, CT headquarters. Archer succeeds cable business services legend Phil Meeks, who previously announced his plan to retire in January 2020.
Craig Schlagbaum, VP and channel chief at Comcast Business, was honored during the recent Channel Partners Evolution Conference in Washington, D.C., with the publication’s first-ever Top Gun 51 Lifetime Achievement Award for being “a constant force in the channel, creating opportunities for his teams and his partners.”
In announcing the award, T.C. Doyle, senior director of content for Channel Partners and Channel Futures, said, “He’s expertly led channel teams for the past 30 years through changing business models, new technologies and channel convergence. What is more, he’s always served as a thought leader in the community.”
Schlagbaum’s experience in the channel includes Comcast Business, Level 3 Communications, NTT/Verio, Qwest Communications, IBM, Sony Electronics, and Ingram Micro. While thanking his colleagues, Schlagbaum acknowledged his father Paul, a channel pioneer who guided him towards the channel as his career.
“Alexa, how’s my network doing?” Comcast Business has added enhancements to its ActiveCore SDN (software-defined network) platform, including integrating Amazon’s Alexa voice assistant, which can provide real-time network updates. Comcast also updated its ActiveCore user interface, account portal and analytics tools. Meanwhile, Comcast Business said it is working with Fortinet to add advanced security solutions to ActiveCore for mid-sized and enterprise customers. The company also unveiled SecurityEdge, a cloud-based security solution developed with Akamai to protect small businesses against cyberattacks and related threats.
Sparklight Business, formerly known as Cable One Business, has launched Enterprise Wi-Fi service, offering personalized design and professional installation to identify the optimal number of access points (APs) businesses need to address specific bandwidth and coverage needs. It includes a cloud-based customer portal and user app, enabling businesses to configure, manage and monitor their Wi-Fi network and user activity from anywhere and at any time.