Why This Matters: Several cable operators are kicking the tires on commercial uses for the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz slice of midband wireless spectrum.
Mediacom communications has become the latest cable operator to test out possible commercial applications involving CBRS, quietly revealing its plans in an FCC filing.
The midsized cable operator joins peers Comcast, Charter Communications, Cox Communications and Midco in kicking the tires on the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, which operates on a swath of midband spectrum ranging from 3.5 Gigahertz to 3.7 GHz.
Use of this spectrum had been confined to a narrow set of applications, most concerning the U.S. Navy. But the FCC has finished its review of opening the unlicensed portion of the spectrum to commercial applications. “They’re done with all the work they need to do — it’s just a matter of paperwork right now,” said Iyad Tarazi, CEO of CBRS technology vendor Federated Wireless, a startup backed by Charter, Arris and American Tower. Tarazi told B&C that the first commercial CBRS applications will roll out in June.
Use cases for CBRS right now involve things like shipyards and industrial plants — any place where the formation of a private, secure, highly reliable LTE network would be a good thing. And these private LTE networks will eventually be built on 5G standards.
Pluses Over WiFi for Operators
For cable operators who have largely put WiFi at the end of their fiber and coax-fueled networks, CBRS could offer numerous advantages.
“Cable operators have miles and miles of coax and fiber and connectivity that goes into many places and with DOCSIS, they can get to phenomenal speeds with it,” Tarazi said. “They’ve been exposing that capability to customers on a wireless basis via through WiFi networks. But they can take that same model to 4G and 5G instead of WiFi hotspots at the end. They could offer a shared spectrum LTE access point, connect any device, outdoor or indoor, and capitalize on all that infrastructure they have.”
For operators of cable-based commercial wireless services like Xfinity Mobile and Spectrum Mobile, the game plan for switching between mobile virtual network operator (MVNO)-based Long-Term Evolution (LTE) service and WiFi is imperfect and maybe not all that cost-effective. Tarazi noted that establishing a CBRS endpoint in lieu of WiFi would enable operators to more elegantly switch from LTE to LTE in order to minimize usage of the MVNO network.
Meanwhile, the more CBRS endpoints they establish on their network, the less MVNO costs they incur.
Establishing 5G LTE networks would be superior for industrial Internet of Things applications, Tarazi said. CBRS could also be used to provide wireless broadband to hard-to-reach rural spaces, an application Midco has said it’s interested in.
“All three use cases work much much better if you don’t have to pay for the spectrum,” Tarazi added.
Keeping Specific Plans Close to Vest
Mediacom and the other cable operators are keeping their CBRS plans close to the vest right now.
“There are multiple spectrum opportunities, some of which are free and some of which are licensed,” Charter CEO Tom Rutledge said on the MSO’s first-quarter earnings call. “CBRS is what we’re experimenting in and that will be available to us at no cost, at least part of it will be. And we also continue to develop WiFi and WiFi capabilities.”