CBRS is coming to market during an interesting social and economic time for the United States, as the COVID-19 pandemic has both shined a light on the need for connectivity and changed the way indoor spaces are used for work, business and education.
During a Connect (X): All Access virtual session, panelists discussed the possibilities for the CBRS band, who might be players in the upcoming auction of priority access licenses (PALs), and what use cases CBRS might enable. The panel was moderated by Connect (X) Executive Producer Tim Downs, and included insights from FCC Commissioner Michael O’Rielly, CBRS Alliance President Dave Wright, and John J. Gilbert, Chief Executive Officer of Rudin Management Co. The panel, titled “OnGo: The Right Solution for the New Normal of Work and Education” is available on demand, along with other content, at https://connectxallaccess.vfairs.com/en/hall#auditorium-section
O’Rielly gave credit to multiple generations of FCC commissioners who put in work on CBRS to bring it to commercial reality in 2020. He said now that the framework is in place for the band, the commission will step back and see how the market develops, including how the secondary market will play out and how the band’s shared-spectrum model might be applied in the future.
“We are going to let the market take the direction it wants to go and where it’s best to be used,” he said. “In these moments that we live in, though, it’s not lost on me that connectivity is so needed. … It’s really exciting to see where this is going to go and who buys licenses.”
O’Rielly said uncertainty created by the COVID-19 pandemic hasn’t slowed down interest in CBRS and commercial deployments in the General Authorized Access (GAA) portion of the band. He referred to a statistic he recently came across that indicated traffic on GAA channels had doubled between March and April, and that trend is expected to continue as PAL licenses come to market.
“Many companies have probably pulled back some investment and decided to put off projects, but even with those circumstances, we’re seeing growth in this segment,” he said. “CBRS is the first of what may be a number of cases where we can use this (shared) approach going forward where we can’t do clear licenses and we can’t do clear spectrum. This is just the tip of the iceberg in my opinion.”
CBRS is touted as a possible connectivity solution for a variety of verticals, from commercial real estate to health care, hospitality and education. The spectrum has value not only with its ability to provide broadband coverage and connect tenants and visitors at facilities and locations that have deployed it, but also for monitoring and managing machines and other objects within both indoor and outdoor spaces.
Wright, who leads the 163-member CBRS Alliance which launched in 2016, said the organization is working to fill technical gaps that might slow down deployments in the CBRS band as well as providing device and equipment certifications to ensure an interoperable ecosystem. He said since full commercial authorization was granted for GAA service in the CBRS band in January, tens of thousands of radios have been deployed, including low-power Category A radios primarily for indoor applications and higher-power Category B devices for outdoor use cases.
In addition to the primary use case of mobile broadband that Tier 1 and Tier 2 operators are interested in, Wright pointed to other potential use cases including fixed wireless access; private wireless access; connectivity for sectors like education, health care, transportation logistics at ports, railyards and airfields; and power/energy production. Wright said 80 different clients have been authorized to operate in the CBRS band, including smart phones, tablets and laptops; internet of things (IoT) modules for consumer or ruggedized industrial packaging; gateway devices that can bridge CBRS with other networks; cameras; and barcode scanners.
CBRS is likely to play a big role in the commercial real estate market.
Gilbert’s company is a family-owned business in New York that owns and operates 15 million square feet of real estate, including 10 million square feet of office space and 5 million square feet of residential space. The company has been highly focused on leveraging the relationship between commercial real estate and the Internet since the mid-1990s. At that time, the company deployed optical fiber to the desktop in a vacant building in what he said fundamentally shifted its real-estate perspective from one of “location, location, location” to one of “location, broadband, location.” A great physical location, he said, is nothing if you can’t access global marketplaces, and CBRS is the wireless equivalent of optical fiber 25 years ago in terms of bringing connectivity to commercial real estate.
He said buildings have always had a heart – the engine room or boiler room. Software that harnesses data buildings generate (Rudin’s system is called Nantum) provided a brain for the building.
“Now the final frontier is the central nervous system,” said Gilbert. “One thing we know as fact, and this is indisputable, is that the more granular data that we can collect the more efficiently we can run our buildings. Full stop. Period. Exclamation point. … CBRS allows me to collect occupancy data, collect space utilization data, understand it, wrap machine learning algorithms around it, identify those patterns, memorize those patterns, learn from those patterns and do a better job tomorrow than I did today because I’ve got more information and more knowledge in order to do that. We see that CBRS enablement as a huge game changer within the built environment, especially in the office and multi-family residential spaces.”
Gilbert said COVID-19 will change the way building lobbies are viewed and used forever, and CBRS can help solve some of the challenges that come from that, including providing bandwidth for thermal scans, security and tenant use while queuing for elevators that will likely be restricted to fewer riders as buildings get back to a new normal after the pandemic. He also pointed to potential applications to deploy CBRS-enabled cameras in dark spots of buildings to protect tenants and property during times of civil unrest like the country has experienced in the past couple of months.
From an everyday operational standpoint, CBRS also will allow data to be collected about the environmental and operational states within buildings, and that data to be used to create efficiencies and save money, he said. For instance, Rudin’s buildings have been able to save 41 percent on their electrical spend by gathering occupancy data and correlating it with fan speeds – slowing down fans when sensors indicate tenants are leaving the building for lunch, for example. Hot and cold calls have also been cut by 75-80 percent in Rudin’s buildings thanks to correlating building systems with operational and tenant data. Ultimately, the payoff is in enhancing the experience and level of comfort of customers, he said.
“People say data is the new oil. Well it’s crude oil, and unless you have the ability to grab that data efficiently and effectively and unless you have software that can refine that data to make it valuable, then all you have is big glumpy thick goo that isn’t worth very much,” said Gilbert. “The ability to grab the data, refine it, make it valuable, wrap machine learning and artificial intelligence around it so that ultimately that data can be made valuable and useful, that to me is the holy grail and that to me is where each and every property owner in the United States needs to go to and get to in order for us to do our job properly.”