The good news for Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) fans is the market continues to grow. The not-so-good news is adoption is tracking “significantly below” expectations, according Dell’Oro Group.
That has to do with diverging trends between fixed wireless access (FWA) and non-FWA, including public and private LTE/5G NR, according to the research firm, which last year predicted CBRS RAN revenues would account for 5% of the North American RAN market by 2025. The firm now expects CBRS RAN revenues to account for less than 5% of the market by 2026.
“The demand for FWA is solid and expectations for the cable players have always been low since they are still trying to figure out the right balance between leasing and owning capacity,” Dell’Oro VP and analyst Stefan Pongratz told Fierce via email.
Therefore, it’s mostly mobile broadband (MBB) capacity augmentation and private enterprise deployments that are coming in below expectations, “reflecting both the economic challenges with low-power solutions for the carriers and the reality that it is still early days for enterprise LTE/5G,” he said.
Cable companies Charter Communications, Comcast and Cox Communications were among those that acquired CBRS spectrum licenses in the 2020 auction, where Verizon was the big spender on the wireless carrier side. The CBRS band consists of a licensed (Priority Access Licenses) portion as well as the unlicensed General Authorized Access (GAA) portion.
Dell’Oro’s downward revision on CBRS RAN projections doesn’t change their long-term vision. “We continue to believe that there is an opportunity to improve spectrum utilization while at the same time stimulating innovation for both public and private networks across various industry segments. So we see this downward revision more as a calibration to reflect the current state of the market and the fact that there is still a significant gap between registered SAS APs and LTE/5G NR base stations,” Pongratz said in a press release.
The nearly 200,000 installed base of registered Spectrum Access System (SAS) access points includes all Citizens Broadband Radio Service Devices (CBSDs), including CPEs for FWA and base stations, he said, noting that since FWA is dominating the market right now, the number of base stations will be lower than the number of CBSDs.
LTE is projected to drive the lion’s share of the CBRS investments over the near term while 5G NR-based CBRS capex will dominate by 2026. That’s not surprising considering that LTE in CBRS had a head start over the 5G standard.
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