When it comes to mid-band spectrum in the U.S., it looks as though it’s no longer a matter of spectrum stakeholders rolling up their sleeves for a national spectrum plan. It’s more like players are taking the gloves off and lining up their punches.

Just as CTIA released another study supporting licensed spectrum, another group of companies sent a letter to federal spectrum agencies calling for a CBRS-type framework to be applied to the lower 3 GHz band.

The November 17 letter, addressed to FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel and National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA) Administrator Alan Davidson, spells out how successful the CBRS 3.5 GHz band has been in the U.S. and how it’s driving innovative uses of spectrum. For example, farms are using CBRS to increase yields, and schools and libraries are using it to close the digital divide.

The signatories are Airspan Networks, Amazon.com Services, American Library Association, CalChip Connect, Celona, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Communications, Deere & Company, Dynamic Spectrum Alliance, Federated Wireless, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE), Mavenir, JBG Smith Properties, Midcontinent Communications, NCTA – The Internet & Television Association, Open Technology Institute (OTI) at New America, Pollen Mobile, Public Knowledge, Purdue Research Foundation, The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, Shure, US Ignite, Weavix and the Wireless Service Providers Association (WISPA).

The FCC authorized commercial equipment in the CBRS band about three years ago and completed its auction of shared licenses about two years ago.

“In that short timeframe, CBRS is now being used throughout the country with over 285,000 CBRS base station devices (CBSDs) already deployed in under three years,” the letter states.

For comparison, “the commercial wireless industry has built 418,887 cell sites over its entire 40-year history. (During the same three-year period that CBRS has been active, cellular providers built 69,543 cell sites – of which more than 10,000 use CBRS.),” the letter says. “As further evidence of a dynamic equipment ecosystem, the FCC has certified 187 different CBRS base station models and 496 different end user client devices, ranging from traditional smartphones and IoT modules and gateways to security cameras, barcode scanners, and building management sensors. Use of the CBRS band is vibrant and growing at an impressive pace.”

The letter follows on an earlier letter sent this week to Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) and Roger Wicker (R-Mississippi), who lead the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation. In that letter, 25 public interest and other groups called on Congress to renew the FCC’s spectrum auction authority and to do so in a way that doesn’t favor wireless carriers over other uses.

Public Knowledge, OTI and SHLB also were signatories to that correspondence, as well as groups like California State Library, LinkOregon and New York Public Library.

Spectrum melee

CTIA sparked a litany of opinions and comments from the CBRS industry after publishing a Recon Analytics report earlier this week that essentially called CBRS a failure. It’s all part of a full court press that CTIA is making to bolster its argument for making more mid-band spectrum available for licensed use by its mobile carrier members.

On Thursday, CTIA released a white paper by Rysavy Research saying it’s essential to allocate hundreds of megahertz of additional mid-band spectrum on an exclusive license basis, with full power levels and wide bands.

That came after an Accenture report released in September that identified 350 MHz in the 3.1-4.5 GHz band as one of the most promising for 5G; the other two being 400 MHz in the 4.4-4.94 GHz band and 400 MHz in the 7.125-8.4 GHz band.

The Accenture study said the U.S. wireless industry currently has access to 5% of lower mid-band spectrum, while unlicensed spectrum users have access to 7x and government users have access to 12x that amount.

An earlier updated study, also released by CTIA in September, by Analysys Mason showed the U.S. continues to lag other countries in the amount of mid-band spectrum available for licensed 5G.

CBRS pioneer weighs in

The question is how the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, which sits right in the prime mid-band space, will be used commercially. Will it be auctioned for commercial uses like the C-band, or will it be modeled after the CBRS band, which is in part shared and in part licensed?

Celona is one of those pushing for a CBRS-like model. The company was founded about two years ago; it sells hardware and software for enterprises to set up a private network using CBRS. Without CBRS, the enterprise has to go to an operator to supply a network for them, and that can be a time-consuming and limiting process, said Mehmet Yavuz, co-founder and CTO at Celona.

“This will take some time,” before all is said and done, Yavuz said. “I believe CTIA came out with this report because they’re afraid” that the next most promising mid-band spectrum for 5G may be used on a shared basis like CBRS. If CBRS were deemed a success, it could more easily be extended to other bands, like the 3.1-3.45 GHz.

Instead, it’s bashing the CBRS model. “That’s what we believe is going on right now,” he said.

Incumbent Department of Defense (DoD) Navy users are protected in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. The same could apply to the 3.1-3.45 GHz band, which also is home to the DoD.

“We believe this is not practical for all those systems to be moved,” out of the 3.1-3.45 GHz, Yavuz said “The best way is to keep them as the Tier 1 users, the incumbents,” he added. “Then open it up” for use by secondary users.

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