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Here we OnGo! The compelling economics of CBRS spectrum for private wireless

With the FCC authorizing the commercial deployment of OnGo™, we are finally on our way with the CBRS band in the US. This is a proud moment for us at Nokia. All indications are that it will prove to be a big disruption point for the private wireless industry, unleashing billions of dollars of investment in Industry 4.0 technologies.

I should probably unpack that last statement for those of you who haven’t been immersed in this area like I’ve been. First of all, CBRS, which stands for Citizen Broadband Radio System, is unlicensed or lightly licensed spectrum in the 3.5 GHz range in the US. It can be used for LTE or 5G and, because it is unlicensed, it is affordable for private industrial wireless networks. It is expected to replace earlier generation wireless technologies, such as Wi-Fi and Wi-Max, and enable the digital transformation of many industrial segments.

If you’ve followed spectrum allocations over the years, you will know that finding unused spectrum just lying around doesn’t happen by chance, and usually it gets licensed off… This is part of what makes the CBRS 3.5 GHz story so special.

3.5 GHz was first identified back in 2010 by the US National Telecommuni–cations and Information Administration (NTIA) as a possible band that could be shared with private industry. At the time, it was allocated to the Department of Defense but was principally used by the navy, fixed satellite earth stations and wireless fixed broadband users; so, it wasn’t being used for most of the country.

The NTIA, working with industry, including Bell Labs researchers, came up with a scheme for prioritizing the radar use when it was needed and then sharing the spectrum with two other categories of users: a category of lightly licensed users who would come behind the military in priority and, then, general unlicensed users.

This was a novel scheme for sharing spectrum, which is now seen as a model for other countries, and the government worked closely with industry to make it happen. For instance, we at Nokia have been promoting the CBRS standard for years. We were one of the founding members of the CBRS Alliance in 2016 and have been actively engaged in trials and developing standards for its use. The CBRS Alliance developed “OnGo” as the public face of CBRS and we expect that you will quickly begin to see OnGo-enabled devices in much the same way that you see Bluetooth or Wi-Fi devices today.

From our perspective, the really exciting opportunity with OnGo is in the enterprise sector where we believe our industrial-grade private wireless solutions, based on 4.9G/LTE and 5G, will play a very big role in digital transformation and Industry 4.0. Private LTE networks have existed before now, but they’ve been a small market because LTE spectrum was exclusively licensed to mobile operators which adds to the cost of deployments. OnGo completely changes the economics of private wireless networks.

The problem with Wi-Fi for private industrial use is its indeterminacy. It is a best-effort networking protocol, much like the internet, and is great for connecting to the internet and watching movies, doing email or online shopping. However, most industrial processes value predictability. Wi-Fi, for instance, is capable of very low latencies, which is key in automation, but it can’t guarantee it. Contention in the network can create wide variability in everything from the time you wait for a connection to bandwidth and latency.

The 3GPP family of protocols, which include 4.9G/LTE and 5G, are architected differently and are deterministic. And yet for the superior performance they deliver, private 4.9G/LTE networks are in fact comparably priced to Wi-Fi and Wi-MAX for large deployments, typical of industrial sites, as each cell provides a much greater coverage and much higher multi-user capacity. Most importantly, it is possible to configure them for specific performance parameters to ensure that whether it is autonomous vehicles, first responders, automated manufacturing or the performance of the electrical grid, these mission-critical systems can utterly rely on the wireless network. And, now, with CBRS OnGo, this well-proven wireless technology is economical.

Our OnGo™-certified solutions are already widely employed across a variety of use cases including capacity augmentation by wireless service providers, enterprises, entertainment venues, and fixed wireless broadband access providers with thousands of radios shipped. It is truly turning out to be a spectrum that will unleash innovation, and Nokia is leading the way.

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Share your thoughts on this topic by joining the Twitter discussion with @nokiaindustries using #5G, #CBRS, #privatewireless, #spectrum

Stephane Daeuble

About Stephane Daeuble

Stephane is responsible for Enterprise Solutions Marketing in Nokia enterprise. A self-professed IT geek and machine connectivity advocate, he knows first-hand the value of secure and reliable industrial-grade wireless connectivity, and is an active evangelist on the role private wireless will play in helping industrials leapfrog into the 4th industrial revolution.

Connect with Stephane on LinkedIn.

Tweet me at @stephanedaeuble

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