By Claus Hetting, Wi-Fi NOW CEO & Chairman
This week the FCC finally declared the 3.5 GHz CBRS band open for business. And although the CBRS flavour of wireless connectivity – thus far only available in the US – superficially appears as if it could compete with Wi-Fi, current Wi-Fi market strongholds have little to fear from CBRS, says Dean Bubley, founder & director of Disruptive Analysis. Mobile Experts founder & President Joe Madden concurs.
It has been a long time coming – more than six years to be exact – but this week the FCC finally authorised the first phase of commercial operation of the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. This means that public use of the 3.55-3.70 GHz bands is now permitted under CBRS (GAA) rules mandating the use of so-called ‘SAS’ (Service Access Systems) services that govern CBRS spectrum sharing, of which there are now four authorised suppliers, including Google, Federated Wireless, CommScope, and Sony.
CBRS could impact new Wi-Fi markets
So could new and largely LTE-based CBRS networks threaten Wi-Fi industry market strongholds, such as various flavours of indoor enterprise wireless? Although some use cases would appear to overlap, the impact of CBRS on existing Wi-Fi markets will likely be minimal, says analyst Dean Bubley, founder & director of UK-based Disruptive Analysis. But CBRS could impact potential new Wi-Fi markets, such as industrial IoT and similar, he says.
“There are very few areas where CBRS services could be a direct substitute for Wi-Fi. These would tend to be use cases where Wi-Fi would not be able to deal with unpredictable congestion & interference scenarios, such as connectivity for payment terminals in airports or robots in factories, meaning cases that are either business or safety critical,” Dean Bubley says.
Core CBRS use cases unrelated to Wi-Fi
Meanwhile, venues will continue to need Wi-Fi, he says. “All venues will continue to need upgraded Wi-Fi because of the growing number of Wi-Fi-only devices – such as PCs, audiovisual equipment, and a lot of non-critical IoT, as well as for catering to the Wi-Fi expectations of guests,” Dean Bubley says. He also says that core CBRS use cases – such as macro-cellular fill-in for mobile network operators or FWA-type services by wireless ISPs – bear no relation to Wi-Fi at all.
Joe Madden, founder & president of leading the US-based wireless analysts at Mobile Experts, is even more emphatic about the impact of CBRS on Wi-Fi. “The emergence of CBRS will attract investment by mobile operators and cable operators, using LTE and eventually 5G radio standards. But we don’t expect CBRS to have a major impact on Enterprise Wi-Fi for many years, as the low cost and easy setup of enterprise Wi-Fi networks will be very hard to beat,” Joe Madden says.
Some Wi-Fi advocates – including Cisco wireless CTO Matt MacPherson – have argued that Wi-Fi 6 enables precisely the SLA-defined wireless services that industrial use cases require. According to MacPherson and Cisco, Wi-Fi 6 delivers deterministic, low-latency services maintaining performance largely independent of the number of connected Wi-Fi devices. Read more here.