Connectivity is more important than ever: CBRS technology promises a new level of private wireless data.
By Randy Montelius
March 20, 2020
There has been an explosion of wireless devices in the last several years, changing education, corporate, healthcare, manufacturing, and government environments – to name just a few.
Currently in the United States, there are approximately eight connected devices per person. That number is expected to grow to 13.6 per person by 2022. Much of this growth is from Internet of Things (IoT) connected devices.
In fact, we rely on our devices so much that wireless connectivity is now considered by some to be the “fourth utility” (just as vital and necessary as electricity, water, and gas).
Connected devices rely on carrier LTE services, such as Verizon and AT&T, or Wi-Fi networks to connect, communicate, transact, monitor, and alert. The expectation is that wireless networks will provide adequate coverage wherever we are – and that they’ll perform in a secure, reliable way. Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case.
Wi-Fi has come a long way since the first 802.11 protocol was adopted in 1997. Speeds have continued to improve; encryption has evolved to provide better security. Still, the Wi-Fi spectrum is becoming more crowded and the 2.4 GHz band is noisy. Wi-Fi also has coverage limitations and is subject to brute force attacks.
Carrier LTE data networks offer higher security via SIM cards and a more efficient signaling method in LTE, but coverage and capacity are subject to the carrier’s buildout. In-building coverage may be inconsistent or nonexistent. Carrier LTE can also be an expensive option for connecting IoT devices which send and receive relatively little data.
This is where CBRS (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) can play a role. Also known as “OnGo,” CBRS is wireless spectrum now reserved for private LTE data networks. It operates in the 3.5 GHz range, which is between the standard Wi-Fi frequencies (2.4 GHz and 5 GHz). Unlike Wi-Fi, CBRS bands are largely void of traffic.
Previously, CBRS was designated for use by satellite ground stations and the U.S. Navy for ship-to-shore communications. Last fall, the FCC approved CBRS for commercial and general use.
CBRS excels over Wi-Fi and carrier LTE in many ways. When compared to Wi-Fi, CBRS provides four times better indoor coverage and nine times better coverage outdoors. LTE signaling makes it more reliable and secure. When compared to carrier LTE, CBRS is less expensive when serving multiple connected devices. Indoor coverage is also superior compared to external cell towers.
Advantages of CRBS for end-users include:
- Excellent coverage
- Reliable connections
- Enhanced security
Consider the following examples in a variety of markets:
Hospitals are required to secure patient health information. They also have the most crowded wireless spectrum of any industry. Consider all the wireless devices in use at hospitals: phones, patient monitoring, mobile tablets, computers, medical sensors, as well as patients’ and guests’ personal wireless devices. Adding a CBRS overlay network will allow hospitals to shift critical medical devices to CBRS’ less crowded frequency band and experience more reliable and secure connections.
Stadiums, racetracks, airports, and other large venues have substantial numbers of attendees to support. As a result, there are often capacity and coverage limitations. CBRS can support wireless devices for ticketing, point of sale (POS) devices, and security communications, all while providing a secure connection across greater distances.
Warehouse facilities can pose challenges when it comes to providing Wi-Fi coverage. The number of access points needed to provide good coverage is high relative to the smaller number of connected devices in use. CBRS could cover the space with one-fourth as many access points and provide secure coverage for fork trucks and mobile scanners.
Large campus environments face the challenge of providing consistent coverage in buildings and across their campuses. The coverage provided by CBRS would allow a business to transmit security video from a remote perimeter where connectivity can be difficult to achieve. Remote entry gates and intercoms could connect reliably as well. Campus security could also use CBRS radios in buildings and throughout the site.
In our prediction, CBRS adoption won’t lead to the demise of Wi-Fi. In fact, we see it as a complementary overlay network – CBRS will make Wi-Fi better for the devices that continue to use it. Wi-Fi is very easy for do-it-yourselfers to deploy and will always be relevant.
Instead, CRBS will bring us the next level of private wireless data, allowing businesses and institutions to provide a higher tier of connectivity for mission-critical devices.
Vice President of Technology Randy Montelius joined CEC in 1982 and has held positions in field operations, service, sales, management, and engineering. Today, he applies his passion for technology as he helps employees solve complex business issues for customers.