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Understanding CBRS

Understanding CBRS

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is Redefining Communications

We live in a data-driven era, where data has become a crucial resource for many businesses, equivalent to power, water, and heating/cooling utilities – commonly called the “fourth utility.”

With the increasing need for data, organizations are always looking for faster and more secure access to their information. Consequently, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has approved using Band 48, also known as CBRS, in response to these demands. 

But what exactly is CBRS, and how can it benefit your organization?

What Is CBRS?

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a 150 MHz spectrum within the 3.5 GHz band, ranging from 3550 to 3700 MHz. Historically, this band was only sparsely used by U.S. federal government radar systems, a few fixed satellite receivers, and wireless internet service providers. However, with the growing demand for additional spectrum to manage the influx of new mobile users, the FCC has identified this underutilized band for broader use to free up spectrum for shared wireless.

To ensure commercial Access, CBRS is designed with a three-tiered spectrum-sharing framework. 

  • The top tier is allocated to Incumbent Access, reserved explicitly for existing users of the band, such as the Department of Defense personnel and U.S. Naval Radar, who will receive permanent priority and site-specific protection.
  • The middle tier, Priority Access, is available to organizations that pay a fee for a Priority Access License (PAL), which can be purchased at auction with limited renewal rights. 
  • The third tier, General Authorized Access (GAA), covers the remainder of the spectrum and is available for general use. 

This three-tiered framework is managed through a Spectrum Access System (SAS), which protects higher-tier users from interference from lower-tier users, while optimizing the efficient use of available spectrum for all users.

By enabling private LTE broadband for commercial enterprises, CBRS will provide better coverage and capacity, benefiting organizations in various sectors.

How Will CBRS Change Commercial Communications?

Increased Accessibility 

The increased accessibility of CBRS marks a significant milestone for business enterprises. Presently, there is no publicly available broadband spectrum that private businesses can use, which forces some organizations to lease through carriers, requiring a multi-million dollar system.

Alternatively, other businesses rely on public LTE or WiFi to fulfill their business data needs. Although this approach enables mobile device users to accomplish tasks that previously required a computer or physical presence on the job, it has its own issues, including network congestion, weak signals in certain locations, and security concerns.

With CBRS, publicly available broadband spectrum is now accessible for the first time, significantly reducing the entry barrier for business enterprises. Unlike previous systems, it does not require organizations to purchase spectrum, making it a more cost-competitive option for broadband coverage. Organizations can customize the network to meet their unique coverage needs and expand or downsize the system as their business evolves.

More Efficiency 

Compared to Distributed Antenna Systems (DAS) – networks of antenna nodes that provide wireless service within a geographic area or structure – the economics of CBRS technology are more efficient. Additionally, the speed and consistency of service are potentially more reliable than WiFi, possibly making WiFi obsolete. 

Although WiFi has revolutionized wireless networking, it has disadvantages, including limited coverage and capacity, overly sensitive access points, and tedious sign-on processes. Ultimately, WiFi was not designed for complex commercial operations. CBRS overcomes these limitations and offers a more efficient option for large commercial enterprises such as airports and factories, providing comprehensive on-site coverage extending to every corner of the operation.

Ground-Breaking Advancement 

One of the most revolutionary advancements introduced by the newly available private broadband spectrum access is the capability to utilize highly dependable LTE networks to support the expanding number of IoT devices. These devices, which include smart meters, real-time surveillance systems, and worker safety monitoring sensors, are becoming increasingly critical components of business operations, requiring constant, dependable broadband access. CBRS provides this, empowering organizations to leverage the potential of IoT.

Ultimately, CBRS allows for creating an affordable, private data network at a lower cost without the dependence on a wireless carrier. Looking ahead, CBRS and its limitless possibilities will drive automation, workforce productivity, efficiency, and safety – all of which are essential concerns for forward-thinking organizations today.

Four Myths About CBRS


FACT: CBRS will support 5G technology 

5G represents the fifth generation of cellular technology, delivering faster speeds and enhanced network flexibility. Meanwhile, CBRS is a distinct spectrum within the broadcast band and a fundamental component in supporting 5G. The operation of 5G necessitates substantial amounts of spectrum, and CBRS can facilitate the increasing requirements for broadband and forthcoming 5G technologies.

MYTH: Spectrum Access Will Be Difficult 

FACT: Spectrum Access Will Be Open And Easy 

CBRS operates on a three-tiered spectrum authorization framework. 

The first tier, known as the Incumbent Access tier, is exclusively allocated to authorized federal users and grandfathered Fixed Satellite Service users who are currently operating within the band. 

The second tier is the Priority Access tier, which consists of Priority Access Licenses (PAL) that can be acquired through an auction process with limited renewal rights. However, it’s important to note that the Priority Access tier offers no right to exclude others. 

The final tier is the General Authorized Access (GAA) tier, which is open to all users, including carriers, non-carriers, enterprises, residences, and private citizens. The GAA tier can utilize up to 150 MHz of the spectrum, with a minimum of 80 MHz guaranteed.

MYTH: Carriers Will Use Up The CBRS Spectrum 

FACT: Three Tiers Of Spectrum Will Ensure CBRS Access 

Major telecom carriers may turn to CBRS to augment their capacity and support the push for 5G. However, the three-tiered spectrum authorization framework ensures fair Access. The Priority Access tier, available for auction to the highest bidders nationwide, will likely attract these carriers. Nonetheless, the General Authorized Access (GAA) tier remains available for other users, including carriers, non-carriers, enterprises, residences, and private citizens. It’s worth noting that if a company purchases a Priority Access tier and doesn’t utilize it, the spectrum becomes available for others to use, preventing companies from hoarding spectrum.

MYTH: Incumbents Will Impact Effective Usage 

FACT: Designated Spectrum Will Safeguard Open Access 

Some have expressed concerns about potential interference or exclusion from the 3.5 GHz band due to the current use by the military and satellites. However, these incumbents only utilize the band in range of the U.S. coasts on a sporadic basis. Furthermore, modern directional RF antenna technology can minimize the chances of interference with the incumbents. As they only occupy the lower 100 MHz of spectrum, an additional 50 MHz of spectrum is available for other users.

About MCA

Enterprise leaders faced with problems from communication gaps, security challenges, and data threats choose MCA’s certified teams to design, implement, and maximize solutions, from the most trusted and reliable US-based manufacturers.  These leaders love the assurance of MCA’s local sales and service teams, being there in the moments that matter throughout the life of the solution.

MCA provides wireless communication, data and security solutions that enhance the safety, security, and efficiency of workplaces across the nation.  Customers trust us to provide a portfolio of turn-key systems, products, and services — including two-way radio communications, vehicle uplift, security video and access control systems, BDA/DAS, remote monitoring, GPS tracking, SCADA, dispatch, mass notification, and point-to-point wireless networks.

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