3.5 GHz for Utilities is Not Your Grandpa’s CB Radio

Move over, county mounties and bears in the air – there’s a new Bubba Big Rigger in town, wall-to-wall and treetop-tall. The FCC recently opened a block of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band, known as Citizen Broadband Radio Services (CBRS). This newly available block enables efficient use of radio spectrum, while helping to promote innovative SmartX applications and Internet of things (IoT) technology.

In the past, utilities have turned to Wi-Fi networks, bulk network data buys, or even spectrum leasing partnerships for their wireless infrastructure needs. All of these options can be expensive and difficult to scale, especially with the onrushing deluge of IoT devices, all of which require wireless connectivity. Now with CBRS, the FCC has opened up more efficient and secure wireless networking options for utilities.

For many utilities, SmartX is a major driver for owning, managing and controlling their own wireless network infrastructure, enabling them to modernize their existing services while introducing innovation and new revenue opportunities to their businesses. With high-performance wireless connectivity, utilities can benefit from industrial IoT “smart” sensors to increase operational efficiencies from automation and analytics. These efficiencies can take many forms. A few examples are automated data collection over wind farms extending over several miles; fiber replacement/supplement for operation; and easy deployment of remote surveillance cameras, power plants, water, gas and electricity metering and data security.

With CBRS, utilities can now deploy private LTE networks in available shared spectrum instead of hard-to-get or expensive licensed spectrum. CBRS offers more secure connectivity than Wi-Fi, with the high speeds and quality of an LTE wireless network. Whether connectivity is required in a tall office building, a college campus, or a large remote site (as in the mining industry), CBRS solutions allow utility companies to build a local private LTE network for their entire enterprise – regardless of the scale of their operation. The ability to aggregate multiple channels or carriers within the CBRS band will now allow utilities to offer mobility services to their existing customers while modernizing their existing operations.

For data transmissions from fixed wireless access points, CBRS will allow utilities to use SAS-enabled shared spectrum to create a robust, carrier-grade, broadband wireless network. (SAS, Spectrum Access Sharing, allows the FCC to monitor and manage any network interface between CBRS users and the US government who currently own a portion of the CBRS spectrum.) Utilities acting as wireless Internet service providers (WISPs) can build a highly reliable wireless network that offers cost-effective fixed wireless access with low latency and delivers real time communications to all their sensors, cameras and industrial IoT needs. Wireless networking over CBRS spectrum offers a means to tap into the growth opportunities for smart connected systems in various industries. CBRS offers plenty of spectrum to go around and although initial deployment costs can seem high in relation to Wi-Fi, the ongoing costs are lower, to the extent that LTE over CBRS deployments are expected to prove more economical over the long term. Utilities planning their SmartX and IoT implementations should start evaluating CBRS at this early stage of the game, and take advantage of the potential benefits for the new generation of connected utility technologies and big data analytics. The glory days of Citizens’ Band radio may be in our rear view mirror today, but for Citizens’ Broadband radio, it’s a big wide open road out there.

About Dr. Olufemi (Femi) Adeyemi

As Lead LTE Solutions Architect, Femi is engaging wireless operators and partners in the wireless and small-cell ecosystem. He is a 3GPP, LTE and small-cell expert with over 20 years’ experience designing, developing and deploying the wireless networks that enable us to be constantly connected no matter where we are. He’s an agile and adept technologist who always has an eye on the prize, as evidenced by his considerable talent for Ping-Pong and his fascination with aircraft design and evolution.