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What is Citizens Broadband Radio Service?

Citizens Broadband Radio Service gives enterprises another tool to manage the performance of their Wi-Fi and 5G networks. How does CBRS work?

Citizens Broadband Radio Service, or CBRS, is one of those interesting technologies that most of us have probably never heard of, despite the development efforts behind the scenes for the past few years. Before we talk about why it's becoming relevant, let's have a quick look at what it is.

Operating in the 3.5 GHz band, from 3550-3700 MHz, Citizens Broadband Radio Service promises to augment Wi-Fi by boosting in-building cell coverage. It also lends a helping hand to cellular signals that need to penetrate office buildings, industrial sites and public locations.

It's the stuff of private LTE (Long-Term Evolution) networking, but other incumbents are using the spectrum that CBRS will have to coexist with. That's not quickly explained, but this primer from the Federal Communications Commission will help to paint the bigger picture.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service becoming relevant

4G cell services use several swaths of spectrum now. 5G, meanwhile, will use some frequencies that are much higher, meaning they don't penetrate buildings and walls so well.

As a result, CBRS has a lot of appeal because it sits between Wi-Fi's current 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz operating ranges. New client devices will support this frequency range, along with others important to wireless LAN (WLAN) and cell coverage. CBRS will provide a reliable, predictable pipe out to carriers like Verizon and AT&T from equipment that should be familiar to those doing WLAN designs and installation -- though some training might be required.

Citizens Broadband Radio Service is becoming relevant because the regulatory processes required to make it viable in the real world are fast approaching completion. An industry consortium called the CBRS Alliance is also gaining critical mass, with dozens of industry leaders from both the LTE and Wi-Fi spaces working toward common goals. To that end, the alliance has created a certification program, dubbed OnGo, which will be analogous to Wi-Fi and identifies products that are interoperable with CBRS.

Look for CBRS to settle into the collective consciousness of the wireless industry's marketing departments, with early customer adoption anticipated in the first half of 2020.

This was last published in August 2019

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