CBRS Spectrum: What is it, and Why does it Matter?

Sara Nuss
December 7, 2022

The CBRS spectrum is a frequency band that has recently been opened to new consumers. Opportunities abound with this new frequency spectrum. It is being used by three tiers of consumers. There are incumbent, priority access licenses, and generalized authorized access given out to companies within the United States that dictates who is able to use CBRS, and those spots are highly contested. The ability to use CBRS will shape the coming years. The CBRS spectrum is very important because it is a telecommunications technological innovation. It allows data to be transferred faster and with high security, and in this day and age that is a very important ability for any company. This article will talk about the CBRS spectrum as well as some of the people who are using it or plan on using it in the future!

What is the CBRS Spectrum?

The CBRS spectrum is a new radio service that is providing wireless connectivity across many different communities. The Citizens Broadband Radio Service has recently been released for public use. As we said before, there are three tiers of access, so it is not open to just anyone. 

  • Incumbents are users who have used private frequencies for a long time. Two major players in this are the military and satellite communications.
  • Priority Access Licenses (PALs) are carriers who pay to license part of the spectrum, usually to bolster their own communications. 
  • General Authorized Access (GAA) are private companies that utilize a part of the spectrum for their network. These licenses often switch hands as companies need more or less bandwidth for their communication.

These three tiers allow for different kinds of companies to vie for access throughout the United States, and the GAAs are built to switch hands as time goes on. One important limiting factor of CBRS (and all radio frequency communication!) is interference. After CBRS was opened up in the United States, they created a governing body, the Spectrum Access System (SAS) that makes sure that none of the parties interfere with the other ones. If users get to close on the exact same frequency they would encounter serious interference problems. If they were transmitting sensitive data, that could get very bad, very fast. 

The CBRS spectrum is able to power technological solutions on a grand scale. At home — people will likely stick to their Wi-Fi!

How does the CBRS Spectrum Compare to Other Networks?

When it comes to the CBRS Spectrum there are two major competitors. There are conventional fixed wireless access networks like Verizon, and there is Wi-Fi. 

CBRS Spectrum versus Wi-Fi

While there are a number of differences between CBRS and Wi-Fi, the majority of them have the biggest impact once you move into a frame bigger than a single-family house. A lot of commercial operations like healthcare centers and warehouses use dedicated Wi-Fi or a CBRS spectrum for their staff to create the fastest and most secure communications they can. 

Wi-Fi offers a lot of standard benefits. It is a very popular service for small to mid-range operations. Businesses like restaurants, grocery stores, and airports have all transitioned to having Wi-Fi available for guests and clients in response to the smartphone that just about everyone is carrying on their person. Wi-Fi is great for businesses to extend to consumers because it is unlikely that any consumer at one of these businesses is going to need to be hyper-optimized. This differentiation is coming more into focus for operations happening within the business. There are a lot of businesses where lightning-fast and secure communication would allow them to complete a wide variety of new tasks. 

CBRS, either 4G LTE or 5G, can enhance the speed that devices can communicate with one another. This technology makes private networks much more affordable and worthwhile for companies and lets these businesses add coverage and capacity tailor-made for them. The huge range of CBRS devices is another great effect of using CBRS, as companies can send data over huge distances with fewer access points bouncing the information along the line. There is a bit of “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” when it comes to companies using one or the other because switching is a fairly involved process. If a company is functioning well with its current system it is unlikely that it will switch!

CBRS Spectrum versus Major Networks

The CBRS spectrum is less of a “versus” major network and more of a “with” major network. Major networks are using CBRS to bolster their ability to move data throughout the country, and this mid-band communication is allowing them to give their users much higher download speeds than on the current 4G LTE technology. 

Why is the CBRS Spectrum a Big Deal?

The CBRS spectrum is a big deal in two major ways. One is that it is providing faster and cheaper service to 5G networks that use it. We are in an era where speed is everything, and the fact that the CBRS spectrum is also able to provide those lightning speeds in a cost-effective manner is almost too good to be true. The CBRS spectrum opens up the doors for many businesses to start planning how to use those lightning speeds to complete other tasks. There are a set of ideas across every field that was limited by the speed of the 4G LTE network. With access to the CBRS spectrum and 5G networks, they will be limited no longer. 

Another reason why the CBRS spectrum is a big deal is that it is inviting innovation in all areas of the network. Alongside healthcare, retail, warehouse, and other facilities, the CBRS spectrum is creating the opportunity for decentralized wireless networks to enter the fray.

The CBRS Spectrum Invites DeWi Networks

The CBRS spectrum invites DeWi networks into the field. These are networks where the nodes are dispersed by the consumers, not by the company that controls the network. All of the hotspots out in the world function like mini cell towers, providing small nets of coverage in their areas. There is so much less infrastructure necessary to support these devices, as many are the size of little boxes that fit on your windowsill, plug into an outlet, and chug along using the same amount of energy as a lightbulb. 

The question of the hour — how do DeWi networks get their customers to purchase these hotspots? They need to have a reason why a customer would spend that amount of money on something. Creating a little network in your house sounds really cool, the little box being a novelty is not a very strong selling point. Enter Helium (from stage left). They’ve decided on cryptocurrency as an incentive for people to purchase their miners on a simple premise — those people will make the money back and more! The idea behind Helium is that their miner is an investment, and it will never stop generating a little bit of income, so one day your miner will break even and from then on it is a little bit of passive income that goes straight to the bank!

Using a DeWi network for wireless coverage has a lot of potential but they have a long way to go before they can compete with the telecommunications giants that have nestled into the marketplace in the United States. Only time will tell if DeWi networks become a thing of the future, or if they struggle to get off the ground. 

Helium: An Example of CBRS in Action

Helium is a DeWi network that connects a whole lot of nodes all throughout the world using radio waves. In the United States, their 5G network works on the CBRS spectrum. Helium is a practical crypto project that is trying to leverage a cryptocurrency to create a worldwide network both on the Internet of Things as well as on a 5G mobile wireless network. To call them ambitious is a bit of an understatement! 

Helium’s network operates off of the CBRS spectrum, and they are able to do everything they do because they have access to that mid-level band of radio frequency. Prior to their rolling out of the 5G network, however, they worked with LongFi technology on another frequency band. Their progression to a 5G network is mirrored by the major wireless companies. Gathering the resources and people to create a 5G network that is able to provide fast connectivity to people in a large area is going to be groundbreaking. 

Crypto-Driven Network

Helium is a decentralized network that is working to create public and long-range wireless coverage around the world. To do that, they need people to purchase their hotspots. The company is leveraging crypto as an incentive and also as a security measure for its products. Helium began as a company building a network for devices on the Internet of Things (every device that connects to the internet) and started rewarding consumers who had hotspots connected to the internet. They rewarded these consumers with a crypto coin for two activities. 

  • Users are rewarded for transferring data whenever it bounces from their hotspot out into the world
  • They are also rewarded for checking on the network's strength. There is nothing stating that hotspot users need to keep their hotspots running. 

Helium has created a system called proof of coverage to keep tabs on its network. Every so often, hotspots will ping one another and make sure they are running. Once a hotspot is no longer running it stops receiving rewards until it is back up. 

The crypto-driven CBRS spectrum network is also a way for it to stay secure. Security is a major concern for IoT networks because of the sheer quantity of links in the chain. A dedicated and malevolent hacker could enter any one of those nodes, and it is unlikely, for instance, that consumers are looking at their coffee maker and thinking that they need to bolster its security. People have taken advantage of this understandably lax security to hack into these devices to mess with servers and networks, and companies like Helium are working to stop that. 

An Abundance of Hotspots

Anyone can buy a Helium miner, and they are incentivized to buy a Helium miner because it allows them to earn HNT! The idea is that their HNT earnings will return their investment and then they will begin to make passive income every day through their miner. While that miner is active it is functioning as a sort of mini cell tower, projecting Helium’s network in the surrounding area. 

There are a lot of Helium miners out there. The sheer quantity creates a network unlike any other that has existed so far, and it is all made possible because of the CBRS spectrum. The CBRS spectrum is very important in the United States and its entrance into the semi-public eye has opened many opportunities. 

As a quick note, the reason that CBRS is a US-only idea is simply that other countries don’t refer to public frequency bands like that. There is no reason why every country should use the exact same frequency band, so many countries use slightly different ones. 

Helium Miners “Mine” on the CBRS Spectrum

Helium miners use the CBRS spectrum to create a network, and miners receive HNT (Helium Network Tokens) in return. Good news! Helium mining does not require the biggest, baddest processor as crypto mining has in the past. This also means that HNT mining does not drive up your energy bill as other mining may do. Helium mining, on average, adds around one dollar to your energy bill each month. 

The best Helium miners generate passive income for their owners by constantly generating HNT. This generation happens every day, so you are constantly earning money! If you have a Helium miner you are also contributing to their CBRS network, the first of its kind. Helium’s miners project their wireless network into the internet of things, allowing devices to connect and transfer data just like they do on networks like Verizon and T-Mobile.

Major Networks are Using CBRS, too!

The CBRS spectrum is creating a big stir in the telecommunications world. As major networks rush to create a reliable 5G network, the ability to use CBRS is a huge boon. In a wireless network, these companies are able to leverage the strengths of the CBRS spectrum in order to create the fastest network they can. They can output a lot of hotspots throughout the country, especially when they are using technology solutions like those supplied by the OnGo Alliance

The OnGo Alliance is working to create an environment where the CBRS spectrum is able to shine in the United States. They provide technical solutions to companies and organizations that need dedicated wireless networks to work as efficiently as possible. They have a lot of partners, like Google and Verizon, that are a part of the alliance. 

Verizon and CBRS

Verizon has been in the news for its colossal bid (over $40 billion!) to get access to both the PAL and GAA licenses on the CBRS network. They are using the CBRS spectrum to bolster their own 4G LTE and 5G networks. While CBRS is providing benefits on its 4G LTE network, it is not working to its fullest potential. As Verizon continues its switch to a fully 5G network its CBRS spectrum usage will really shine. 

There are really an unbelievable amount of devices connected to the internet. Because of that, networks as strong as Verizon’s and other major networks are struggling to keep up and have turned to services like the CBRS spectrum to hold the line. Once they are able to deploy a 5G CBRS spectrum-backed network they will have their network running at full capacity. It will be a sight to behold. 

Key Takeaways

We hope that you have enjoyed this cute dog picture as much as we did! These articles are heavy on information and we hope that you have a strong knowledge of the CBRS spectrum, what it is, and why it matters. Before you go, here are a few key takeaways from the article!

  • The CBRS spectrum is a new radio service that provides wireless connectivity across many different companies 
  • The CBRS spectrum is important because it has the potential to deliver faster and more cost-efficient network coverage all over the country
  • There are a lot of companies using CBRS now, but they are all in the early stages of its use. As time goes on, companies will get more comfortable with the new technology, and that is when some really awesome things are bound to occur

Companies like Helium are using crypto to drive their decentralized networks into a sprawling map of coverage

Sara Nuss
Sara Nuss is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in wireless, dewi, phone plan advice & blockchain.