The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) Edges Closer to Reality
The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (“CBRS”), a 5G service in the 3550-3700 MHz (“3.5 GHz”) band, is gradually becoming a reality. Operationally, the CBRS is a short-range, high-bandwidth wireless service that can be used either by carriers or corporate users for voice, data, or IoT applications. From a regulatory perspective, the CRBS is unusual in that it provides for a combination of unlicensed users (called General Authorized Access, or “GAA,” users), and special license holders (called Priority Access Licensees, or “PALs”).
The PALs will have interference protection from GAA operations through a dynamic frequency coordination process managed by Spectrum Access System (“SAS”) administrators. Up to seven PAL licenses (each for 10 MHz of bandwidth) will be issued at auction in each county in the country. GAA users may operate throughout the band subject to frequency control by the SAS. Thus, GAA users may operate on up to 15 channels in a given area, but the SAS will ensure that PALs have priority access to their channels in the event of a frequency conflict.
While the service has been in the making since the FCC first adopted CBRS rules in 2015, two recent developments have made consideration of buying compatible equipment and/or licenses a more immediate reality for entities that might like to use this 5G service for their industrial operations or corporate campuses.
First, in September 2019, the FCC approved the lab test reports of five SAS administrators, and has approved these systems for “Initial Commercial Deployment.” The first five systems to be approved are from Amdocs, Inc., CommScope, Federated Wireless, Inc., Google, and Sony. As part of Initial Commercial Deployment, the FCC set a number of conditions for SAS administrators, including the following:
- They must notify the FCC when they will begin and end field testing and provide information on the geographic areas where tests will occur.
- A report must be submitted to the FCC at the conclusion of testing demonstrating compliance with all of the FCC’s SAS requirements.
- If the test reports demonstrate compliance with the technical requirements the FCC will authorize each SAS for commercial service for a five-year term.
Second, the FCC is planning to hold an auction of Priority Access Licenses for county-wide service areas in June 2020, so the initial approval of the first five SAS systems is an important step in giving prospective bidders confidence that they will be able to commence operation as soon as the auction ends and PAL licenses are issued. Of course, this also means that General Access users are that much closer to purchasing CBRS devices and registering them with a SAS administrator for essentially license-free use.