The Future of Private Wireless Runs Through CBRS

This article originally appeared in RCR Wireless, here.

Back in 2012, when the industry first began exploring private cellular networks, the future seemed wide open—in every sense. On one hand, we could imagine seemingly unlimited ways in which enterprises could benefit from private infrastructure running on a shared public spectrum. At the same time, no one could say exactly what such networks would look like or how they would work. After all, there’s more than one way to build private wireless — mobile operators carving out parts of their networks, new Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) technologies, and other possibilities too.

Ten years later, private wireless is real, and as the first wave of enterprise case studies rolls in, we’re starting to get a picture of just how transformational these innovations can be. On the technology side, though, the biggest questions have been answered: the companies launching new private wireless offerings will lead with CBRS. If you’ve been following the industry, this development shouldn’t be surprising. A vast ecosystem has been growing as device manufacturers, chipmakers, wireless carriers, and others adopt CBRS. But it’s only within the last 12 months that we’ve hit a true tipping point. First, last November, Amazon Web Services (AWS) unveiled a preview of its private 5G offering. Google did the same in June, announcing its suite of distributed edge cloud solutions. Both use shared-spectrum technology. The underlying message for the industry couldn’t be clearer: the world’s most consequential tech companies have made their choice. The centerpiece of private wireless, and the path to the edge for U.S. enterprises, will run through CBRS.

Unleashing enterprise transformation

Wireless infrastructure discussions can quickly get down to the weeds of technology details. But with private wireless, they all boil down to a basic business priority: getting to the edge. Enterprises in every industry are looking to digitally transform their businesses, and they’re making big investments in new cloud, edge computing, and Internet of Things (IoT) applications to do it. As they do, many find their existing wireless infrastructures can’t provide the capabilities they need. For emerging applications in robotic automation, connected factories, next-generation retail experiences, and more, legacy wireless solutions can’t provide the needed availability, low latency, security, or control. Private wireless can deliver all those attributes—and more importantly, do it at scale.

This is particularly attractive to the hyperscale cloud companies seeking to act as transformation enablers for the world’s enterprises. Indeed, for Google, Amazon, and others in this space, edge is the centerpiece of their growth strategies for the coming decade. These companies view private wireless as the glue to hold together the disparate parts of their offerings, combining cloud applications and infrastructure, edge computing, and IoT with local wireless connectivity. The fact that they’ve chosen CBRS as the primary path to get their customers to the edge can’t be overstated.

Why has CBRS become the go-to option for private wireless?

  • It’s truly private: CBRS is the only technology that can enable “true” private wireless; every other solution runs over public cellular networks at some point. This is critical for many enterprises. For a retailer launching new point-of-sale and video analytics applications, for example, or an agri-business automating equipment on connected farms, wireless infrastructure becomes core to business operations. These enterprises need to be able to expand and adapt their networks as needed, in minutes or hours rather than weeks. You can’t do that if you’ve outsourced your wireless connectivity.
  • It’s secure: As enterprises open up more internal machines and systems to connected edge applications, they’re justifiably concerned about security. CBRS-based private wireless networks can be fully contained within a building or venue under the enterprise’s control. At the same time, they bring the stronger security of Subscriber Identity Module (SIM)-based authentication.
  • It’s agile and fast to deploy: When enterprises can modify their own wireless infrastructures without waiting for a mobile operator or middleman to do it for them, they can move much more quickly. To take one recent example, a large winery deployed a CBRS-based edge solution to convert its tractors into a fleet of autonomous production vehicles in just three days. Relying on traditional carrier deployment models would take months.
  • It’s cost-effective: With no recurring costs for licensed spectrum and no need to use public cellular radio equipment, the cost of deploying CBRS infrastructure is very low. These networks are also typically 100% software-driven, allowing enterprises to automate much of their operations.

Getting to the edge

All those factors make CBRS attractive to enterprises. For those building and selling edge solutions, however, CBRS’ biggest advantage is that it’s built for the cloud. Hyperscalers are making huge investments to build out enterprise-edge solutions at massive scales. CBRS brings the same scalability to edge connectivity.

First, as an open, API-driven technology, CBRS is easy to integrate into edge computing solutions. Additionally, CBRS fits seamlessly into the cloud frameworks and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) offerings that enterprises already consume. For example, leading cloud-based event management systems handling trillions of alerts per month already integrate with CBRS. Shared spectrum technology also integrates smoothly into cloud-based inventory management, logistics, and warehousing systems.

For enterprise customers, CBRS’ “born-in-the-cloud” nature also enables:

  • “Spectrum-as-a-service” consumption: CBRS brings consumption-based, as-a-service pricing to cellular services for the first time. Enterprises can pay for only the spectrum they use, with no strings attached. They’re not locked into buying any particular provider’s radios or devices.
  • Software-driven connectivity: CBRS is fully software-controllable via APIs. Enterprises can embed CBRS spectrum management into any equipment, any deployment, and any partner, literally in an afternoon.
  • Huge open ecosystem: CBRS is the fastest-growing technology ecosystem in the world. Enterprises can already choose from more than 400 CBRS-enabled devices and 70 infrastructure vendors, thanks to the open, collaborative nature of the technology.

For enterprises, though, the biggest draw of CBRS goes back to the cloud. Companies are banking on their hyperscale partners to help them reimagine their businesses. As cloud providers build mass-scale portfolios on CBRS, enterprises can trust in one key advantage: getting to the edge will be as easy as using any other cloud service.

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