Buzz in the IoT market regarding Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) is building. In July, the FCC released a public notice outlining the procedures and deadlines for submitting proposals for commercial deployments of networks on the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. In addition, in November, Sierra Wireless announced that its EM7565 LTE-Advanced Pro Embedded Module is the first embedded module granted FCC approval for use on networks using CBRS spectrum. Meanwhile, the FCC upgraded a CBRS trial deployment at Dallas Love Field in Texas to initial commercial deployment status.
However, despite this buzz, there remains a great deal of confusion in the IoT market regarding CBRS, including what exactly it is, how it works, its benefits and what it means for the IoT. If you are not familiar with CBRS and are involved in developing or deploying IoT applications for your organization, here are four things you need to know to help you get started in determining whether or not to integrate CBRS into your IoT digital transformation strategy.
Given the wide number of different wireless networking technologies, ranging from Bluetooth to Wi-Fi to LTE to Low Power Wide Area (LPWA) technologies such as LTE-M and NB-IoT, it is no wonder that many people think CBRS is yet another such technology. In fact, CBRS is a band of wireless spectrum – a 150 MHz wide contiguous band of the 3.5 GHz band. As a band of wireless spectrum, it is technology agnostic, meaning that various low and high-speed networking technologies – including Wi-Fi, LTE and others – can use the band to transmit/receive data.
For the IoT market, the ability to use CBRS spectrum to deploy private LTE networks is perhaps its most important feature. While enterprises have been able to set up their own Wi-Fi networks for years, if they wanted to use cellular networking technologies like LTE, they had to use a network owned by a Mobile Network Operator (MNO), such as Verizon or AT&T. Though the FCC will auction CBRS licenses, called Priority Access Licenses (PALs), enterprises will still be able secure General Authorized Access (GAA) to CBRS spectrum without a license. This will enable enterprises to build and operate their own private LTE networks at mines, factories, warehouses, airports, stadiums, college campuses and other facilities and locations without needing a license from the FCC, which was previously a significant barrier to entry.
Enterprises can get easy access to CBRS spectrum to deploy their own LTE wireless networks because of a new technique for allocating spectrum called dynamic spectrum allocation. What this means is that the FCC is not issuing spectrum grants to specific users, but rather dynamically issuing spectrum to those who want to use it. Past, incumbent users of the CBRS band, including the US Navy, satellite service providers and utilities, will have first priority, to ensure their existing communications are not interfered with. Below them in priority will be owners of PAL licenses, which are likely to be MNOs who will purchase licenses (covering US counties) in order to improve their wireless capacity in high traffic areas and fill coverage holes in rural areas. Next in priority will be GAA users of the spectrum, likely to be enterprises deploying their own private networks, who will not need a license to deploy these networks.
Though the FCC is still working out the details of how the GAA access will work, it is important to keep in mind that there is a lot of wireless spectrum in this band for any given location across the US. In addition, because it is dynamically allocated, parts of this spectrum will be used by the incumbents, PAL , and GAA users and, with 1,500 channels, there is plenty of bandwidth for all users thrive.
Enterprises engaged in or evaluating the deployment of IoT applications are increasingly considering using private CBRS LTE networks for these applications because, for certain use cases, they can offer significant cost, reliability, security, flexibility, go-to-market and other advantages over using private Wi-Fi networks or MNO LTE networks.
For example, while traditional Wi-Fi networks can be set-up quickly at a relatively low initial cost, the ongoing maintenance costs for Wi-Fi equipment are high. In addition, Wi-Fi is less secure than LTE, and also provides coverage inferior to LTE inside buildings. Using LTE networks owned and operated by MNOs addresses many of these drawbacks, since the network infrastructure is managed by the MNO, However, there are some drawbacks to MNO LTE networks as well. Over time, ongoing MNO data transmission costs can add up and enterprises need MNOs to certify new devices for use on their networks, which is expensive and can take time. Moreover, at remote locations, such as mines and oil drilling sites, MNO cellular coverage can be limited or non-existent.
By deploying private LTE networks on the CBRS band, enterprises can address many of these drawbacks. Though the initial deployment costs for these networks are higher than Wi-Fi, the costs related to ongoing administration and maintenance costs are lower, providing a lower overall total cost of ownership (TCO). In addition, by using higher power LTE network technology, these private networks can deliver better coverage than Wi-Fi, reducing “dead-spots” within a building or other facility. LTE networking technology is also more secure than Wi-Fi, helping reduce the risk of a cyberattack or data breach.
Unlike MNO LTE networks, with a private CBRS LTE network there are no ongoing data transmission charges. Another key advantage for enterprises working on more innovative IoT applications is the fact that new types of devices do not need to certified by an MNO for use on private CBRS LTE networks. If the device uses modules that have been certified for CBRS by the FCC, like Sierra Wireless’ EM7565 and EM7511 LTE-A Pro embedded modules, enterprise can use them on their private CBRS LTE network immediately, lowering both deployment time and costs.
There are many IoT use cases where private CBRS LTE networks would not provide significant benefits – asset tracking IoT applications designed to monitor assets as they move across the country, predictive maintenance and equipment-as-a-service applications where connectivity is embedded into assets installed at various customer locations, and consumer and IoLST wearable IoT applications where the wearables will not always be located in the same place.
However, for use cases that feature the deployment of many IoT applications in a specific facility or locations, such as an airport, factory, mine or college campus, private CBRS LTE networks have the potential to lower TCO, improve performance and shorten deployment times. In a future blog, we will look in more detail at the advantages of private CBRS LTE network for some specific use cases.
Start with Sierra to learn more about how Sierra Wireless’s FCC certified embedded modules and other device-to-cloud (D2C) solutions can help you use IoT applications and private CBRS LTE networks to transform your business and thrive in the connected economy.
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