Arlington, Virginia-based Federated Wireless has developed a cloud-based spectrum access system (SAS) that could play a key role in enabling non-traditional players like Google and Amazon, and cable MSOs, or even enterprises, deploy 5G services.
Last April, the FCC adopted rules that allow 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band (referred to as the Citizens Broadband Radio Service) to be opened up for commercial use. The FCC is allowing both unlicensed and licensed users in the band, and unlicensed operators will have access to many frequencies without having to bid on spectrum.
The only catch is that this spectrum is currently being used by federal incumbents like the Department of Defense. To avoid conflict, the FCC is requiring companies that want to use this spectrum to deploy a SAS that will manage the spectrum and avoid any interference issues.
SAS Administrators will be able to make money by charging operators fees for registration and frequency coordination services.
That’s where Federated’s technology comes in. Federated’s cloud-based CINQ XP is a three-tiered SAS that uses information from its Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) systems to dynamically allocate and manage spectrum resources. Federated’s platform is currently integrated with several manufacturers including Ruckus, Telrad, Siemens and Airspan. According to Federated’s CEO Iyad Tarazi, who formerly was the VP of network development at Sprint, at least five more manufacturers are working with Federated, but the process isn’t final yet.
Google’s 3.5 GHz Aspirations
What’s particularly compelling about the 3.5 GHz spectrum is that new non-traditional players may be able to use the spectrum to deploy wireless networks like 5G without having to fork over billions for spectrum. One such player is Google, which in August asked the FCC for permission to conduct experiments in the 3.5 GHz band in up to 24 cities in the U.S, including San Francisco, Boulder, Colorado and Provo, Utah, according to Business Insider.
Of course, early trials will not be of 5G, which is still far from being standardized. Instead, it is anticipated that unlicensed LTE protocols, also known as LTE-U and LAA, will likely be deployed first.
Tarazi noted that Google is one of the key members of the CBRS Alliance, which was formed in August to make shared spectrum solutions more widely available and also create a business model as well as maintain interoperability in this band. Other members include Federated, Nokia, Intel, Qualcomm, Ruckus Wireless, AT&T, CableLabs, Ericsson, and ZTE USA.
Brocade, which acquired Ruckus Wireless in May for $1.2 billion, also has big plans for the 3.5 GHz spectrum. Brocade’s Wireless Division Head Selena Lo has said in the past that she expects the company’s OpenG technology to address in-building cellular coverage challenges, and it will use the 3.5 GHz to do that.
Specifically, OpenG technology combines coordinated shared spectrum, like the 3.5 GHz in the U.S., with neutral host-capable small cells to provide in-building cellular coverage. Brocade hopes to use Ruckus’ ties with enterprises and service providers to drive the adoption of OpenG.
Interestingly, Lo also describes OpenG as a transition to 5G because it will be commercialized by late 2017. 5G, meanwhile, is not expected to be commercially deployed until 2020 or later.
Besides Google, Tarazi says there are at least four other trials occurring in the 3.5 GHz spectrum today, and that he expects more trials between now and year-end. He also predicts there will be commercial equipment for the 3.5 GHz available in 2017.
But he also believes that beyond Google and the cable companies, the 3.5 GHz may also provide an opportunity for big enterprises to deploy their own private LTE or 5G networks. “It’s the same model as enterprise WiFi,” Tarazi said. “Over time we can get a unit cost for a private LTE system that will be equivalent to WiFi.”