With many rural areas within the U.S lacking access to consistent, high-speed broadband, for decades, the private and public sectors have been struggling to find the means to supply Fiber to the Home (FTTH) and wireless connectivity for users and businesses in less populated areas.
This may be changing, and quickly, to some degree as a result of the economic recovery legislation and related funding that is designed to help American businesses and people get back to school, back to work, and back to “better than before” the crippling COVID-19 pandemic.
With access to affordable, reliable, and fast connectivity, industries across the country can modernize their factories, taking advantage of IoT and automation, while hospitals can add real-time telemedicine services. Schools can improve how to deliver education, from early childhood to post-doctorate experiences, government agencies can improve public safety and reduce operating expenses, growers can take advantage of precision agriculture solutions, and environmental protection initiatives can be accelerated when more data can be collected and acted upon.
One of the biggest breakthroughs when it comes to delivering connectivity and “broadband for all” and doing so in such a way that new business models can emerge that radically improve economics is the upcoming release of Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) free spectrum, a cellular mode that functions between licensed and unlicensed connectivity.
CBRS is made up of 150 MHZ of the 3.5 GHz band that reaches 3.7 GHz, with some frequencies meeting the Priority Access License (PAL) criteria and others meeting the General Authorized Access (GAA) criteria.
Typically, exclusive rights to the band have been held by satellite ground stations and the U.S. Navy. However, after being authorized by the FCC on January 27, 2020, priority licenses were made available and auctioned off on June 25 to carriers building better and more effective broadband networks capable of supporting 5G, improving the offerings from service providers.
Formed in May 2019 by a variety of companies, including C-Spire, the Rural Broadband Consortium was devised to address the issues barring providers from offering high-quality broadband to rural and remote communities.
As the nation’s sixth-largest wireless provider, C-Spire partnered with some big names, including Microsoft and Nokia, to establish the Rural Broadband Consortium, and through pooling resources, they were able to find new approaches to solving the broadband gap while also aiming to create new business models that regional fixed and wireless broadband providers and utilities can use to enhance adoption in rural areas.
Mississippi-based C-Spire is inspired by their own state in which almost half of the three million residents live in rural areas, and a staggering 28% lack broadband connectivity. A 2017 study by the Mississippi State University Center for Technology Outreach stated that the state’s lack of broadband access and slow internet speeds resulted in rural counties losing millions of dollars annually in prolonged economic benefits.
Other companies are also entering the playing field, bringing different approaches to unleashing the value of the release of spectrum in a few months, including several companies who are focused exclusively on enterprise networking by making it possible for organizations to build and operate their own private 5G networks.
Celona, for example, explains they are rolling out “an end-to-end solution that meets the connectivity needs of A.I. and edge-compute powered apps in the enterprise,” two mega-applications they say will “ultimately the heroes of our story.”
Like JpU, a company that has implemented dozens of solutions in the U.S. and abroad, Celona is building an ecosystem of hardware, software, engineering, system integration, and go-to-market partners, including IoT and Industrial IoT solution companies MVNOs and others.
“CBRS is a game-changer,” said Jonathan Schwartz, CEO at JpU, whose focus across verticals including manufacturing, transportation, energy, education, and utilities has driven their go-to-market strategy, said, “we’re taking efficiency to the next level, bringing high performance, resilient and affordable broadband to both outdoor and indoor environments. This is ideal for the corporations involved as the CBRS band offers significantly improved network capabilities compared to traditional networks. With the new spectrums made available, the CBRS band can benefit enterprises with mobile networks that can be built within hours. These 5G networks can be used to address some of the largest networking challenges faced by traditional wireless service providers and their business customers.”
Common benefits of approaches like those from Celona, JpU, and other non-traditional companies include reduced latency, minimalized interference, greater security, faster speeds, and consistent availability – with no wires needed.
“Our next-era network has advanced routing and continuity built into a software and cloud-based platform, giving enterprises complete control of indoor and outdoor connectivity with a management interface that is easy for I.T. and O.T. teams to use,” Schwartz said. “Not only are 5G enterprise networks simpler to build, operate and scale, they are less complex and therefore less costly. The OPEX business model is parallel to cloud services, requiring no cabling infrastructure, no vendor lock-in given the open RAN architecture, and more choice especially when it comes to edge computing and edge applications.”
Schwartz said there are also opportunities for government agencies to become service providers as “neutral host” models become more popular. “A municipality – a group of municipalities – counties and even state-wide consortiums can now build their own private 5G networks to support services for the public as part of digital-physical infrastructure modernization and generate substantial new revenues which enrich the communities they serve. We are in discussions with visionary leaders who understand the new calculus – investment in 5G private networking as a service with a return on that investment that could reduce taxpayers’ burdens for decades to come. The innovation is not only in technology but in financial models.”
Schwartz also said JpU is working with leaders in the U.S. who see the tight connection between access to private 5G and innovation, for example, start-ups who are inventing better ways to grow food, reduce energy and water consumption, and create new jobs. “With access to secure, fast, and affordable wireless broadband everywhere – including the most rural locations – there are no challenges Americans can’t tackle, and the impact of making this available across the country will not only assist in the recover but will light the way for long-term prosperity.”
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