Coverage

CBRS Versus WiFi

By
Sara Nuss
December 28, 2022

There are a number of advantages and disadvantages of CBRS and WiFi, so your specific position will affect where you stand on the CBRS versus WiFi debate. Before going any further, it is worth noting that WiFi is at the top of this debate by the pure reason that it is much more widely used than CBRS is, and that there is a much stronger framework of WiFi devices and solutions due to the fact that it has been around for so many years. WiFi has already gone through its growing pains, while CBRS is just getting into its own. 

This article will help you figure out where you stand on the CBRS versus WiFi discussion, as well as answer the following questions:

  • What is WiFi, and how does it work?
  • What is CBRS, and how does it work?
  • CBRS versus WiFi: Which is right for you?

What is WiFi, and How Does it Work?

WiFi allows us to load just about anything from the internet on our phones, our computers, and all the devices we have connected to the internet at home! 

WiFi is an excellent advancement in data transmission and is the main reason we can enjoy wireless connectivity in our homes. The way that WiFi works is through the transmission of data on radio waves. Wi-Fi occupies two frequency bands — 2.4 GHz and 5 GHz, and along those bands, WiFi networks have specific channels so they can transfer data without interference from other networks. When a device uses WiFi it first sends a request to the router. This request is, basically, anything that requires the internet, from playing a game to loading a website or sending a message on Slack. The router receives that request and sends/receives the data from the internet through its hardwired connection. WiFi routers take that internet connection and expand it over an area, like a house, so every device within its bounds can access the internet. 

A Brief History of WiFi

WiFi is the name of the radio bands that the FCC released in 1985. They are unlicensed bands, able to be used by everyone. Once it was released (and this was a very, very, big deal) companies all over the US rushed to build wireless networks and devices to take advantage of this new radio spectrum. In the beginning, there were a bunch of companies working to create WiFi networking technology and each one had its own devices and systems and none of those systems were compatible with one another. That was okay on a small scale, but it would, for instance, mean that you would have to set up every device in your home to be compatible with your WiFi and it would not be compatible with, say, your neighbor’s system. 

Soon after that, a group of major companies formed a corporation formerly known as the Wireless Ethernet Compatibility Alliance (now the WiFi Alliance) that oversaw and promoted a standard wireless product so systems would no longer clash with one another. This is similar to the OnGo Alliance, which we will talk about later in the article. In the beginning, transmission speeds reached impressive heights of 2 Mbps. Nowadays, as you are probably experiencing right now, they have gotten much faster. 

Pros and Cons of WiFi

It is no secret that WiFi is integral to our day-to-day life, but it is not perfect. Some of the biggest benefits of WiFi that we enjoy today are 

  • Convenience. Multiple users can connect to the same router without needing to configure their devices with little to no delay, providing them with instant high-speed access to the internet. 
  • Strength. WiFi networks allow dozens of devices to connect to high-speed internet, supporting them in doing any sort of activity. WiFi networks are available at speeds up to one Gbps, which is enough to run a medium-sized business off of one router!
  • Flexibility. Regardless of whether you are at work, at home, or at a local coffee shop, WiFi lets you connect to the internet with ease on any device you happen to carry. 
  • Productivity. Due to the fast internet connection you have from anywhere, you don’t have to wait for pages to load or for other connectivity issues. 
  • Mobility. You can work from anywhere in your office. No longer are employees tied down to their desktops with an ethernet connection that’s been wired to the central router. WiFi enables you to work from anywhere. 
  • Easy and cost-effective deployment. WiFi solutions are available at any scale for a great cost. Over 80% of Americans have WiFi in their home, and almost every business uses WiFi to connect their workforce (though that may be changing!).

Although WiFi has a pretty impressive list of advantages, it is not without its weaknesses either. There are many advantages and disadvantages of WiFi as there will be with, likely, every technology that allows us to transfer data at this speed. With the increase in popularity and solutions available with CBRS, companies will begin to wonder about CBRS vs WiFi in the future. WiFi is likely to remain the most common internet provider in family homes for some time. Some of the disadvantages of Wifi are: 

  • Security concerns. Many WiFi networks are vulnerable to hacking, especially public WiFi networks. Both private and public networks are in danger of malicious users causing problems. 
  • Limited Range. One of the main disadvantages of setting up a WiFi network is that it only extends around 100 feet. As users move further and further away, the signal weakens until it is unable to accomplish just about any task. This is often countered by WiFi range extenders, but those devices are not perfect, either. 
  • Signal Interference. WiFi operates on the same frequency band and a multitude of networks or physical obstructions can disturb the signal or cause interference. 
  • Bandwidth Constraints. While WiFi is tremendously powerful, there is an upper limit to the amount of data it can transfer without that transfer beginning to slow. As technological processes consume more and more bandwidth, the maximum signal strength of a router must also increase to keep up with it.  

What is CBRS, and How Does it Work?

CBRS is an up-and-coming technology that has the potential to challenge WiFi in the future. In the current CBRS versus WiFi discussion, WiFi has a considerable advantage.

CBRS is a new frequency available for public use. Businesses, corporations, homes, and everything in between can use CBRS to transfer their data just like we use WiFi today. It is, however, still in the beginning stages of development, similar to how WiFi took some time to get its feet after that frequency band was released to the public. It presents a new way to power communications all around the country, and it works by sending frequencies over the 3.55 GHz to 3.7 GHz spectrum. There is a lot of development happening to use this new frequency band, and the technology that comes along with it, to its fullest potential. 

A Brief History of CBRS

A few years ago, it was only used for a few governmental information transfers, like military bases to naval ships and satellite information transfers. During those years, no one else could access the frequency band and military communication was completed on those fast and secure lines. Pretty serious stuff. In 2016, the Federal Communications Commission decided to open up the CBRS band to the public in three separate tiers, where the upper tier would get priority over its use over any tiers below it. Interference is a big concern with the CBRS spectrum, so the FCC and the Spectrum Access System (SAS) regulate its use over these three tiers.

  • Incumbents are VIP users and have access to the entirety of the frequency band. They are protected against interference from the other tiers, and the regulatory committees are hard at work to make sure their signal is as strong and clear as it was before 2016.
  • Priority Access Licenses are given out in auction and these licenses give the corporation a slice of the spectrum up to 3.6 GHz. Licenses are given out in three-year increments. The bidders on this tier are most often big service providers, and the licenses are very expensive. 
  • The General Authorized Access tier is meant for the general public. This, in essence, means that users can utilize the spectrum at any frequency if and only if there is no nearby use from either of the other tiers. 

Major wireless companies are racing to get Priority Access Licenses, allowing them to utilize the CBRS spectrum to bolster their own networks and create a much stronger 5G foundation. 

Pros and Cons of CBRS

Just like WiFi, CBRS has advantages and disadvantages over other forms of creating wireless networks. 

  • Range. CBRS cells are able to extend coverage for miles, creating a much stronger network with fewer routers and access points.
  • Coordination. CBRS small cells can overlap and strengthen their respective connection, creating an integrated mesh of coverage that can grow as needed. 
  • Cost. CBRS solutions allow businesses to transfer data at much lower costs than traditional carriers. 

Alas, CBRS is so new that it is as of yet untested. There are very well-defined pros and cons of WiFi, but with CBRS it is less so just because it has only been released to the public for a few years. Great strides were made in the years following 2016, but there are many more to go before it reaches the same popularity that WiFi has today. Businesses and corporations like the OnGo Alliance are figuring out all the pros and cons of CBRS versus WiFi, but perhaps the biggest advantage WiFi has over CBRS right now is that all the groundwork has already been laid for WiFi solutions to be in place. 

The biggest disadvantage of CBRS at this time is all the unknowns. It is unknown where exactly the pricing will end up for CBRS-driven operations, how strong their networks will be, and how many people will start using CBRS over WiFi in the future. 

CBRS versus WiFi: Which is Right for You?

The abundance of free WiFi all around us should be an indication of how good WiFi is at providing connectivity to us whenever we need it. Still, CBRS has a lot of potential to grow. 

In the end, the decision will come down to CBRS versus WiFi — which is right for you? Are you a multi-building corporation trying to find the best ways to connect various warehouses and send information as fast as possible, or are you looking for the best way to provide a fast and secure internet connection in your home? 

There are a lot of variables that go into deciding CBRS versus WiFi, but it is difficult to overcome WiFi’s inherent current advantage of being so ingrained in our society to this day. If you already have WiFi serving as your primary method of transferring data and there are no serious problems with it we recommend sticking with WiFi. If, however, you have to install and purchase one or the other, here are some of our thoughts on the CBRS versus Wifi integration. 

Nationwide Corporations

In terms of nationwide corporations, CBRS has some big benefits to communication. There are ways in which the added distance of coverage from each node will lessen the overall need for infrastructure and maintenance of the network, and there are serious security advantages to using a CBRS network rather than a WiFi network. In terms of these three categories, nationwide corporations are leaning the most towards CBRS in the CBRS versus WiFi scale. 

The OnGo Alliance provides solutions to that scale, as well. It drives a robust wireless marketplace where OnGo solutions are readily available for businesses that want to create their own wireless network without the cost and time that it has required in the past. Their technology is in its beginning stages, but they are spearheading the push toward the next generation of wireless communication. These solutions do not extend to single-family households, rather they are geared toward corporate necessities. The solutions provided by the Ongo Alliance are some of the best CBRS solutions on the marketplace at this time. 

Single-Building Businesses

As things currently stand in the CBRS versus WiFi equation, CBRS is not yet developed enough to provide sufficient network coverage at an effective cost to be better than WiFi alternatives. Restaurants, retail stores, and many more businesses can create a WiFi network that provides adequate coverage for guests and high-speed communication for employees. 

There are networks being developed, like Helium, which are working to provide CBRS solutions to single-building businesses in the future. This will create, perhaps, a much more affordable way to connect a CBRS network to your business and transfer data that way, but as things stand, CBRS solutions have a high bar to pass due to how effective WiFi is at creating an effective workplace environment. The running costs of setting up a WiFi network are manageable, and CBRS devices have a long way to go before they are able to compete with WiFi at this scale. 

Households

Going one step further down the ladder, it is no surprise that WiFi remains king in households as well. CBRS solutions are new and exciting, but even the pioneer company of Helium is still setting up the foundations of their 5G CBRS network. In a number of years, there will be a very different discourse surrounding CBRS versus WiFi, but for now, WiFi is well-cemented as the best solution to providing internet in your home. 

That being said, WiFi solutions are much closer to their peak than CBRS solutions. In the CBRS versus WiFi discussion, it is worth keeping in mind the fact that CBRS is in the beginning stages of development and is certain to change much more rapidly than WiFi, which has been in use for many years. 

Key Takeaways

https://www.instagram.com/p/CHdhHaqD_2V/ 

CBRS versus WiFi, which will you choose? At the end of the day, it comes down to which solution will provide you with the best connectivity and strength for your own devices. As time goes on, CBRS and WiFi may begin to occupy their own niches in the communication industry and the answer to this question will be easier to define. Alas! As of now, it remains complicated. Remember:

  • WiFi is an excellent way to connect to the internet and is used in all kinds of businesses nationwide
  • CBRS has a lot of potentials to become a fantastic way to connect to the internet and has already shaken up the way things are done

When it comes down to CBRS versus WiFi, your best bet is likely to go with WiFi as things currently stand. Keep your eyes open, however, for CBRS solutions, because one might fit your operation perfectly.

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