CBRS and MulteFire promise a new level of enterprise enablement
The going paradigm for commercial real estate owners, running the gamut from Class A office buildings and stadia to hotels and shopping malls, is a dependence on carriers or neutral host providers to deliver connectivity.
This process, as is, has a number of moving parts including who foots the bill for the physical network infrastructure—a service provider or the building owner—and, once the network is built, will the carriers agree to connect their networks? But, through a combination of shared and unlicensed spectrum and the equipment that supports it, this model could be upended.
There are two disruptive, emerging technologies that can support a wide-range of connectivity-dependent use cases: MulteFire and CBRS. Let’s take them one at a time.
MulteFire delivers key features of LTE solely in the unlicensed 5 GHz band, which is commonly associated with Wi-FI. In addition to ensuring fair coexistence with Wi-Fi, MulteFire delivers high-end LTE features including voice-over-LTE, high-speed mobile broadband and support for one or multiple operators for a range of deployment scenarios.
The technology was defined by the MulteFire Alliance, which includes a number of leading companies including American Tower, Boingo Wireless, Cisco, Ericsson, Huawei, Intel, Nokia, Qualcomm and others. Earlier this year the group published its 1.1 specification, which focuses on support for internet of things applications. In the context of CRE, this could include building automation systems such as smart lighting and thermostats, as well as water management solutions and, of course, reliable, robust mobile network access, which is an imperative for modern building tenants.
In a recent white paper prepared by Harbor Research and focused on the 1.1 MulteFire spec, the authors examine a hypothetical factory case study. The enterprise needs to “improve operations efficiencies and production capacity,” but are hindered by connectivity. “Private LTE will enable key remote monitoring applications for a diverse equipment environment and support data services for mobile equipment and human machine interfaces…bringing reliability, security, throughput and latency requirements to these business critical systems.”
Then there’s the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, which is a bit of beachfront spectrum currently occupied by the Department of Defense and satcomm incumbents. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission is considering regulations to open the CBRS band up to new entrants through a three-tiered licensing scheme that would ensure fair access to the spectrum, while supporting private LTE services.
This technology has also drawn consortium-backed momentum with the CBRS Alliance, which counts among its members heavyweights including Ericsson, Nokia, Qualcomm, Federal Wireless, AT&T, Cox, Samsung and Verizon. Once the FCC moves on approval of the spectrum access system, CBRS will bring 150 megahertz of new, powerful spectrum into play and open up a new set of possibilities around private LTE. While CBRS spectrum won’t bring the wide-open access of MulteFire, there’s a much lower cost barrier when compared to the billions operators spend on licensed bands.
“Tier one mobile operators in the United States have, on average, 130 megahertz of licensed spectrum,” according to a blog post from CBRS Alliance President Michael Peeters. “Others, like cable operators and enterprises, mostly use unlicensed spectrum to provide wireless connectivity. All of them are entering the fourth Industrial Revolution era where digital automation drives the need for more capacity and higher reliability. New spectrum, new deployment models, and more efficient ways of using that spectrum are required sooner rather than later. CBRS…comes to the rescue! The world’s first and unique three-tier shared spectrum promises the most efficient approach to fill this need and create new business opportunities.”
The point is, private LTE delivered by MulteFire or CBRS, through a combination of unlicensed and shared access spectrum, opens up a whole new set of opportunities for enterprise connectivity, whether that particular enterprise is a large-scale manufacturer, an operator looking to augment capacity, or a commercial real estate owner.
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