What is CBRS and Why Should Enterprises Care?

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Why does technology-speak always look like alphabet soup? DSL, MNO, Wi-Fi 6, LTE, CBRS? What is CBRS and why do you care? Plain English coming up.

What is CBRS?

CBRS stands for Citizens Broadband Radio Service. Not very enlightening, and not to be confused with Citizens Band radio, good buddy! What you need to remember is that wireless technology is based on radio waves. These radio waves travel in the atmosphere in spectrum bands, not unlike light spectrum bands that define the colors we see. With the increased use of wireless technology, these radio bands become congested. The standard method of regulating usage is through licenses – something the FCC has been doing for years. The FCC also set aside some spectrum bands for shared use – that’s where Wi-Fi operates today.  Then, a few years ago, a new concept was developed: How can we lightly license some of the richest spectrum bands for cellular technology so that they could be shared for both public and private use? CBRS was born. 

Working with the Department of Defense (DoD) and wireless industry leaders the FCC created a new framework for sharing spectrum. In this framework, the DoD gets priority access to the spectrum if needed. Another portion of the spectrum is sold in small chunks to buyers across the country – mainly mobile and cable operators to augment their traditional licenses. These are called Priority Access Licenses. The leftover portion of the available spectrum is made available for private use – called General Authorized Access (GAA). 

Unlike the wild west of Wi-Fi, however, access to the spectrum is managed for all users by something called the Spectrum Access System (SAS). The SAS acts in real-time to ensure each spectrum user is only accessing their fair share. The CBRS framework meant that enterprises across the US could have access to spectrum to install their own private cellular networks – both 4G and 5G – freeing them from having to rely just on Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) for the service. They could now run their own networks to meet their unique business needs. Pay attention. We’re getting to why you should care.

How does CBRS work?

CBRS GAA spectrum is available to enterprises to deploy private wireless networks on their premises, indoors and out, whether the property is big or small. The power of the indoor and outdoor CBRS radios is kept at a relatively low level so the signals travel short distances, reducing interference with neighbors. At a large property like an airport or a manufacturing plant, the entire spectrum range is available for the enterprise to use without interference because they are the only business on the property. The enterprise gets all the cybersecurity and performance benefits of 4G and 5G technology, without paying exorbitant rates or data usage fees. 

Private networks running on CBRS are ideal for enterprises because:

  • They deliver high bandwidth and low latency performance
  • They deliver interference-free coverage both indoors and outdoors
  • SIM authentication and encryption ensure greater cybersecurity 

What are the considerations in choosing between private networks and Wi-Fi?

So what are the issues enterprises should consider in deciding to deploy a private wireless network, a Wi-Fi network, or both? We’ll address three: security, performance and reliability, plus network congestion.

Security concerns 

Cybersecurity threats to wireless are on the rise. This is a major concern for both private wireless and Wi-Fi networks. They include piggybacking, spoofing, hijacking, shoulder sniffing, evil twin attacks, mobile device theft, unauthorized access, and denial of service.

If you don’t know half of what those terms mean, you’re not alone. The serious security skills gap is a reality faced by most enterprises. Among the skills listed as “most lacking today” within internal IT teams are knowledge of network security (70% of respondents), security architecture (69%), and security operations (66%).

This gap poses obvious concerns when contemplating the deployment of a high-performing wireless network for business-critical applications. What are the security mechanisms built into each solution? Who can monitor and respond to the ongoing management and security concerns of the network once it is built? And not to be forgotten, the enterprise must consider how to scale and grow its network capabilities as needs and technologies evolve. Finding, training, and maintaining in-house staff, along with suitable third-party expertise and partnerships for this ever-changing technology whirlwind is no small feat.

Performance and reliability 

Both performance and reliability are clear differentiators between private wireless and Wi-Fi networks. Private 4G/5G networks running on CBRS spectrum deliver superior bandwidth with low latency, ideal for mission-critical applications as we’ve mentioned. But this is a challenge for Wi-Fi. An example might be a warehouse or manufacturing facility that requires a precise and uninterrupted signal for robotics or autonomous guided vehicles (AGVs). Poor or interrupted signal performance could pose a serious threat to workers, damage to products or other devices, or costly disruption in productivity. As the world becomes more automated and integrated with IIoT devices and applications, this issue can become ever more critical to the efficiency of the enterprise. Private networks have proven the superior option, with the promise of getting better over time.

Network congestion

Lastly, overcoming signal congestion is a definite challenge for enterprise networks. Because access to CBRS spectrum is managed by the SAS, congestion in a private wireless network is inherently controlled. In a Wi-Fi network, the more users on the network, the more likelihood of interference, reducing the amount of bandwidth available for each user. In a public setting like an airport or a hospital, the ideal combination is to deploy a private network for business operations, freeing up the Wi-Fi network for passenger and guest access. 

How will enterprises deploy private wireless networks?

There are several ways to implement a private wireless strategy, ranging from do-it-yourself (DIY) to fully outsourced. Key considerations are: Who owns the network?  Who has the technical knowledge and expertise to plan and build the network? Who operates the network? How is the network spectrum acquired? What are the costs associated with each option? Answers to these questions will help the enterprise decide how to proceed: build on their own, use a mobile network operator, or partner with a managed service provider.

Private Wireless Network Deployment Options

Enterprise DIY

With the DIY option, the first step would be to develop in-house expertise in 4G/5G and CBRS technology – new concepts for most IT teams since the private network option is only newly available with CBRS. Finding and keeping employees with the needed skills can be a real challenge in today’s market, and has cost implications for an organization. This new team would then be responsible for finding the right 4G/5G radio vendor, 4G/5G core vendor, SAS vendor, and setting up a security and management system to monitor and maintain the network. Adding Industrial IoT devices on the network for business automation applications such as robotics, scanners and cameras, requires additional expertise, cost and network management considerations. It’s not impossible for a sophisticated IT organization but may be out of reach for most. 

Mobile network operator (MNO)

Working with an MNO means they can help design and build the network for the enterprise, and get the wireless network completely operational. However, the MNO owns and manages the network. The enterprise data being transferred within the network is still not wholly owned and controlled by the enterprise and often travels off the enterprise premises to the MNO public network. Contractual arrangements with the MNO will include usage and data fees. With hundreds, maybe thousands of IoT device connections, these rates can quickly add up.

And remember, that data we mentioned is not owned by the enterprise. So, the valuable insights and analytics you may want to extract from that user data are not yours to manipulate. Not to mention the privacy and security issues of all that data being owned and managed by an outside third party. This may not be the best long-term plan for your “private” enterprise network.

Privately-owned managed service

This brings us to the third option – private wireless networks delivered as a service. Business-critical connectivity is built behind the enterprise private firewall, and the enterprise data stays on site. A truly private 4G/5G network can be deployed to meet even the strictest high-performance applications and functionality, for smart warehouses, factories, transportation hubs, hospitals, campuses, and more. Managed service providers plan, deploy and securely monitor the private network, while the enterprise owns the network and maintains control over their own data, without data usage fees.

With a managed service provider, the enterprise eliminates the DIY labor challenges. It eliminates the CBRS spectrum acquisition, deployment constraints, and data fees. The enterprise owns and controls both the network and the data. Enterprise staff are free to focus on their core business, with the peace of mind that the private network is fully functional, completely secure, and performing efficiently.

Choose a managed service provider with proven experience

A managed service provider like Betacom can plan, design, and install your network with 5G as a Service (5GaaS). Your solution will meet the demands of your business now, while enabling future advanced technologies to scale as you grow. All delivered at an affordable price.

As a recognized leader in private wireless networks, Betacom has won several awards for our 5GaaS solution, for innovation in our approach to the market, and for our industry leadership. In choosing Betacom 5GaaS, the daily operation of your network is backed 24×7 by Betacom’s Security and Service Operations Center (SSOC) which monitors traffic and security issues. Your IT team is free to focus on their core operations. Your network performance and ongoing security concerns need not be on your radar. That responsibility lies with Betacom.

Are you ready to enable technology innovations for your enterprise network? Contact Betacom to explore how a private wireless network can bring digital transformation to life for your enterprise. 

To learn more about private 5G networks check out these resources: