It’s an exciting time in the wireless industry: a massive infusion of some 500 MHz of spectrum has been auctioned by the FCC. Expanding today’s mobile and fixed wireless networks and services will help bridge the digital divide, accelerate 5G adoption, and spur innovation in industrial manufacturing, IoT, and autonomous vehicles. What are the drivers behind this industry evolution? Let’s start with the new frequency bands:
- CBRS: 3550-3700 MHz
- C-band: 3700-3980 MHz
- 3.45 GHz: 3450-3550 MHz (FCC auction scheduled for 2021)
Spread the wealth: Evolution of spectrum licensing
One goal of the FCC auctions has been to make spectrum more readily available to smaller mobile network operators and enterprises. For 3.45 GHz, this means smaller spectrum blocks and a 40 MHz cap on total blocks in any one area. For CBRS, dubbed the “Innovation Band” by the FCC, a new shared spectrum model and light licensing for Generally Authorized Access (GAA) open the door to a new cast of players.
A shared spectrum model is also being proposed for the 6 GHz band, to support licensed microwave backhaul and unlicensed Wi-Fi 6 users. These licensing polices are intended to spur industry innovation and drive economic activity.
Open RAN (O-RAN): More choices for building a mobile network
After years of consolidation, only a handful of end-to-end telecom equipment manufacturers remain. Operators are limited in their choices and may be trapped by vendor lock-in.
Enter O-RAN, the operator-led initiative that is gaining momentum across the board and seeks to build a more robust, competitive supplier ecosystem for the radio access network. Open specifications encourage smaller manufacturers to focus on their core competencies and bring best-of-breed, competitive solutions to market. This benefits operators by bringing more viable choices to the table, which has the effect of increasing competition and lowering costs.
Private LTE, a potential new revenue stream
The introduction of shared spectrum is a key enabler to Private LTE, wherein an enterprise has its own cellular network (generally when Wi-Fi cannot do the job) for mission-critical applications and may be optimized for its specific coverage or performance requirements.
Previously the enterprise had to lease licenced spectrum or buy the network as a service from the operator. With shared spectrum, they can do it themselves. However, the vast majority of enterprise lack the expertise to build and operate a cellular network – something for which operators are uniquely positioned to do. In addition, the enterprise may allow the operator’s customers to use their private network (to expand or improve the operator’s coverage) with a revenue sharing arrangement.
All these changes in the industry are ushering in an era of wireless innovation – new technologies and products, new business models, and more choices than ever before. Are you embracing the change and staying competitive in this evolving landscape?