Will CBRS Be the New Wi-Fi, a New Real Estate Play or Wholesale Capacity Play?

It is hard to know, in advance, how important a new block of 150 MHz of mid-band mobile spectrum can be, and in which deployment models, especially since the rules on indoor and outdoor use are so different. 

The Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) is a prime example. CBRS creates a three-tier access system where primary licensees are protected, but licensed secondary users have access when the primary user has fallow spectrum. Also, tertiary users can have "best effort" access, on the Wi-Fi model, when neither primary nor secondary users need all the available spectrum. 

In principle, CBRS also includes different licensing rules for outdoor and indoor use. Indoors, a property owner can create a private Long Term Evolution (LTE) 4G network. In principle, a big enterprise could essentially create a private LTE network to support better indoor signal reception. 

Of course, the issue is that the value of doing so is highest if if multiple commercial LTE networks (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile US and Sprint are supported, since that ensures that any customer, on any network (retail or wholesale), can use the network. How much capital any enterprise wants to sink into that sort of infrastructure is the issue.

One obvious monetization method is to create a wholesale infrastructure that is open to use by any of those network services providers. In other words, in principle, a real estate opportunity essentially is created. As always, that also means there is room for specialized real estate developers to enter the market. 

In other words, eventually, as commercial aggregators of commercial Wi-Fi hotspot have developed, so in principle a new type of indoor mobile infrastructure could develop (think Boingo), with the business model being selling access rights to mobile operators. 

The other logical platform is to use outdoor rights to build a "traditional" mobile service, using the secondary licensing method. 

Possible, though more complicated, are other business models based on tenant communications, though that always has been a fragmented and difficult undertaking. 

It's new terrain. Never before has so much spectrum been made available on a "shared" basis, where new licensed users can be added to a band where primary licensees retain their rights to primary use. 

Spectrum traditionally has been a very scarce resource. Indeed, whole business models and industries have been built on exclusive use to spectrum. In the analog world, sharing was difficult to impossible. In today's world, it is comparatively easy. Not always easy, but doable. 

Spectrum clearing and reallocation used to be the only way to shift capacity from one set of licensed users to others. It always is expensive and time-consuming. 

Spectrum sharing now allows more-effective use of existing licensed spectrum that is underused, not by moving licensees, but allowing new users access on a shared basis. 

Neville Meijers, VP Business Development, and Patrik Lundqvist, Director Technical Marketing, Qualcomm Technologies, talk about use models for CBRS. 

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