Grid Modernization Drives CBRS Opportunity for Critical Communications

Power grid

Grid modernization and digitization initiatives are driving opportunities in the mission-critical communications space for newly released Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. Utilities, oil and gas companies, and other entities that operate mission-critical communications networks may be players in the upcoming CBRS auction or choose to tap into spectrum available on a lightly licensed basis to meet their communications needs.

Mission-critical communications companies may look to CBRS to manage data devices that are being deployed on their transmission and distribution systems. These devices require higher data throughputs than existing narrowband communications systems can provide. CBRS may also provide backhaul for advanced metering infrastructure, transmission line switches, transmission tower lights, environmental conditions monitoring, falling conductor protection systems and more.

Utilities, oil and gas companies, and other critical industry players may also choose to consolidate several existing networks under a CBRS umbrella to cut costs. Because CBRS — often called the ‘Innovation Band’ —supports 5G and LTE technology, the spectrum can support a variety of use cases and applications currently handled on fiber and microwave links or public carrier networks.

CBRS may also support mobility applications for field workers and vehicle and asset tracking.

The Federal Communications Commission is preparing to auction part of the CBRS band, which encompasses 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz band, this year. The spectrum will be dynamically shared among three tiers of users: incumbents, priority access license (PAL) users and general authorized access (GAA) users. Use of the spectrum will be controlled by Spectrum Access Systems (SAS) that will ensure access based on priority and mitigate potential interference issues.

Licensees and CBRS users should be aware of the influence of protection zones that could affect their operations, particularly for critical applications. The FCC has built in several safe harbor channels for PAL licensees in case of incumbent use of the channels.

The auction of the intermediate priority PAL licenses marks the first significant auction of mid-band spectrum in recent years, and there are high expectations for the value of the spectrum based on its usefulness for 5G applications. Not only does the spectrum provide favorable propagation characteristics, but 70 megahertz of spectrum will be available per county in 10 megahertz blocks in the form of PAL licenses.

CBRS PAL licenses will be offered via FCC Auction 105, an ascending block round auction scheduled to begin July 23. Seven 10-megahertz channel blocks will be auctioned per county for a total of 22,631 available licenses. The licenses will have a 10-year renewable term and are subject to network buildout requirements. Bidders may acquire four channels per market.

WIA and HetNet Forum members Federated Wireless, CommScope, Davis Wright Tremaine and Alive Telecom expanded on the opportunity for CBRS in mission-critical communications in a recent MissionCritical Communications article. Click here to read the article.