Shared Spectrum vs Licensed Spectrum

As the wireless industry continues to search for new spectrum to support developing 3GPP technologies, there is perhaps the need to look at alternatives to licensed bands. In the U.S., the recent C-Band auction generated record interest and resulted in over $80B in gross winning bids for the total 280 MHz to be made available. This is a significant cost to the operators, and they will still need to invest billions of dollars to deploy the newly acquired spectrum. The rules surrounding licensed spectrum are relatively straightforward: the license holder is the only entity that can operate on the specific licensed bands in the approved geographic area designated for the license. The beneficiaries are the users that will be operating on the specific carrier’s network, but only those users. Unless there is some form of a roaming agreement, users that are tied to the other carrier networks do not benefit. This is a segmented use of a valuable and limited asset, spectrum.

The concept of a Shared Spectrum Model has recently played itself out in the U.S. markets. Originally coined the “innovation band”, the CBRS spectrum (3.55 GHz – 3.7 GHz) operates under the Shared Spectrum model which was developed by the CBRS Alliance (rebranded the OnGo Alliance). Without going deep into the technical details, the band operates under a shared model which allows multiple companies to utilize the same band without interfering with one another. The band allows for the 3GPP standard LTE (and soon 5G) to operate in this spectrum. This paves the way for an entire global ecosystem of wireless devices to be developed to operate in the band without needing to support proprietary protocols. When you combine a shared spectrum model that supports a “use it as you need it” with a 3GPP global standard’s body technology, you get and extremely efficient and cost effect way to deploy and utilize spectrum. Ultimately the spectrum users will not have to spend billions of dollars for the spectrum and then billions of dollars to deploy it. The recent CBRS auctions netted over $4.5B and the total spectrum band is 150 MHz.

The Shared Spectrum concept has global implications: any spectrum bands and any technologies that fall within the 3GPP standards. The CBRS Alliance was recently rebranded the OnGo Alliance for this very reason. With spectrum needs growing exponentially due to evolving wireless technologies/devices, there is a need to be able to utilize the limited resource more efficiently. Helping establish the Shared Spectrum model globally (due to its success in the U.S.), should help wireless companies deploy solutions in a broader and more efficient manner and it opens the wireless markets to smaller more innovative players.

Jamie Kimble, Vice President of Enterprise Solutions, is an experienced telecommunications leader with over 30 years of experience in the industry specializing in Wireless System Design. He is skilled in 4G, 5G, Wi-Fi, CBRS, Operations Management, and System Deployment. Jamie is a strong information technology professional with a bachelor’s degree focused in Electrical, Engineering and Communications Engineering from the University of Cincinnati.