Phone Plans

The Complete Guide to CBRS Equipment

Kyle Reyes
January 4, 2023

CBRS has created a lot of buzz and excitement since it was released to the public in 2016. It allows businesses to access the radio frequency spectrum in a way that they never have been able to before. Since 2016, this frequency band has been opened up to a wide variety of users and, as a result, companies are creating equipment compatible with this new frequency band. A lot of the major wireless networks operate in the megahertz spectrum, where CBRS is in the gigahertz band. 

Businesses all over the United States are looking to incorporate CBRS into their practices. In order to make this transition, they need CBRS equipment that is compatible with both their network and the new CBRS solutions. 

The Importance of the CBRS Spectrum

The CBRS spectrum is a huge step forward in the technology sphere. How it develops will leave its mark on the United States.

The CBRS spectrum provides faster and cheaper service to networks and CBRS equipment that use it. The CBRS spectrum opens up the doors for many businesses to start planning how to use those speeds to optimize the work they need to do. As technology improves, so does the data it needs to transfer and the speed at which it needs to transfer it. 

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.

A Brief History of CBRS

A few years ago, CBRS was only used for a few governmental information transfers like military bases to naval ships and satellite information transfers. During that time it was closed to the public. No one could use it because those systems needed constant and interference-free access to those frequencies. After it was released to public use, there have been a lot of regulations and systems put in place to ensure that those who were using it before still enjoy the security and speed of the network while newer tiers of users are able to access it as well.

  • Incumbents 
  • Priority Access Licenses (PALs) 
  • General Authorized Access (GAA) 

These three tiers allow for different kinds of companies to vie for access throughout the United States, and the PALs 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 the Spectrum Access System (SAS) that makes sure that none of the parties interfere with the other ones. If users get too 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. 

CBRS Equipment and Interference

The SAS exists to monitor the airways and minimize interference across the whole CBRS spectrum. When the spectrum was used entirely by the military, they did not have to worry about interference, because they had complete control over the band. That meant, however, that the great majority of the United States was not making use of that band. CBRS equipment broadcasts at a certain frequency over a certain distance. If two devices have a broadcast range of one mile and they are three miles apart they can use the same frequency and not run into interference. The trouble is when those devices are on the move. When that happens and they get too close, they start to interfere with one another and, from that, they cause problems. 

Before any device can transmit on the CBRS band it needs to submit itself to the SAS and get approval. Once it is submitted and gets approval, that CBRS equipment can start broadcasting on the network. During that time it is in the SAS data banks so it knows not to let that frequency be assigned to another piece of CBRS equipment in close proximity. 

OnGo Alliance

The OnGo Alliance is a group of corporations that believe that both 4G and 5G networks on a shared spectrum can result in a huge increase in indoor and outdoor coverage and expansion. It wants to drive a robust wireless marketplace where CBRS equipment is 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. 

CBRS Equipment

CBRS equipment can be roughly divided into two categories There is CBRS-compatible equipment that serves as gateways for routers and other internet of things devices. There is also CBRS-compatible equipment like smartphones and laptops. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has created a lot of guidelines and regulations regarding the use of the CBRS spectrum as well as CBRS equipment, also known as Citizens Broadband Radio Service Devices (CBSDs). 

All CBRS equipment needs to register their device with the SAS before they can start broadcasting on the spectrum. The transition to a semi-public CBRS spectrum was huge for the telecommunications industry, but it did create a big need for regulation amongst those who could access the spectrum. 

What is CBRS Equipment?

CBRS equipment is everything that allows the networks to function. Equipment comes in the form of gateways, modems, phones, and hotspots. The term “CBRS equipment” encompasses everything involved in the process of generating, sending, and receiving data on a mobile network. 

CBRS Gateway

CBRS gateways grant network access. They allow CBRS devices to connect to other mobile broadband technologies to transmit their data, opening up the spectrum to more data traffic. 

CBRS Modem

A CBRS modem is a device that allows you to project a network on the CBRS spectrum. It takes data and can convert it into a form where it can get transferred through radio waves. Your home (most likely) has a modem that allows your home network to connect to your internet service provider. 

CBRS Phones

CBRS phones are all devices capable of supporting CBRS on the market. They are plentiful, as most newer models, to keep with the times, have added CBRS compatibility so they don’t get discarded when CBRS becomes a more common way to transmit data. 

CBRS equipment: Hotspots 

Hotspots are an exciting way that decentralized wireless networks are using CBRS to create new ways to transmit data. There are a few companies that are creating decentralized internet of things networks as well as 5G mobile networks. One of the biggest ones is Helium. Helium is using CBRS services within the United States to fuel its growth. Helium uses CBRS to transmit its data on its burgeoning 5G network, and it is using hotspots all over the country to transmit that data. 

Wireless communication companies need a way to transmit their data. The major wireless companies in the United States have contractors that build and maintain all of their towers throughout the country. That is a costly proposition, but it allows them to deliver such excellent coverage nationwide. CBRS opens up a new type of communication company. Companies like Helium sell their hotspots to users who can set them up and start earning passive income while their hotspot is projecting a bit of network coverage. Hundreds of thousands of those hotspots are currently running in the United States and, if done correctly, it is a win-win. 

Unfortunately, it is not so easy, but there are a lot of people who make some nice passive income through their Helium hotspots. Helium uses those rewards to incentivize its customers to purchase hotspots. All of the Helium hotspots double as miners, which are used to “mine” their tokens. They have a cryptocurrency (HNT) that they reward to everyone who has a hotspot up and running. This reward increases based on the amount of work their hotspot does. In simple terms, they reward it for continuing to be active on the network and based on the data it moves.

What makes CBRS Equipment different?

The Citizens Broadband Radio Spectrum works very differently from the way that we use other mobile equipment for wireless communication today. There are access points all around that allow CBRS equipment to connect to the network, but that equipment has to ping the SAS so it can be entered into the database of broadcasting equipment. If two devices attempted to broadcast on the same frequency in the same place, neither would reach its destination. Thus, this system catalogs and keeps accurate records of all of the bandwidth being used all over the United States. 

The SAS wants to make the CBRS band as efficient as possible for the CBRS equipment that uses it. It wants to optimize the United States’ use of radio waves so the CBRS band can transfer the maximum amount of data at maximum speeds. The SAS divides the states into areas where certain bands of the spectrum are able to be used to remove the chance for interference. Devices in one county can access a part of the spectrum, and devices in another county are able to access it as well because they are sufficiently far away to not interfere with one another. 

CBRS Equipment Versus WiFi

Both CBRS and WiFi technologies have a lot of equipment to back them up. One of the major hurdles of WiFi development was finding the right technology to implement the network.

CBRS is being used in a lot of circumstances where, in the past, users would turn to WiFi instead. At this point and time, it is not so great that everyone is moving over from WiFi to CBRS, but it is providing enough value to start turning heads. One thing about CBRS is that it is not as tested as a technology like WiFi. WiFi’s been around for decades, and the technological solutions that use it are well-optimized to provide as much value as they can. CBRS equipment, on the other hand, is very new. There are a lot of teams at work figuring out all of the interesting ways in which we implement CBRS solutions to provide better coverage than we’ve seen up to this point. The decision to switch from WiFi to CBRS is a big one, especially for those who already have WiFi set up at the current location. 

How does CBRS Equipment Work?

CBRS equipment is everything needed to run the network. That technology is not anything that is tremendously different from the ways that we communicate today, but it is the infrastructure and the method of communication that differentiate it. CBRS equipment uses the CBRS spectrum to enhance the speed with which devices can communicate, while keeping the infrastructure cost-effective and easy to maintain. Those who work with CBRS equipment want it to be as good as possible. 
CBRS networks have a lot of potential. Wi-FI networks are really good, but it is not undergoing the rapid change that is currently affecting CBRS. When Wi-Fi was first introduced, there were many years when it was hard to use and very difficult to maintain. During those years, however, it improved drastically as time passed. There is so much CBRS-based development occurring at this time that there will be a lot of new and exciting technologies that come from it. 

There is, also, room for Wi-Fi and CBRS to exist together. It is likely that, as these technologies continue to develop, that people will find places in which one excels over the other, and vice versa. That distribution of technology and the addition of CBRS as a major and viable option will be a very big step in the development of wireless communication technology. There are a lot of interesting steps to take and breakthroughs to discover on the long road of CBRS technology. 

Which is Right for You?

If you are in a position where you are seriously considering setting up a CBRS network, there are a few things to keep in mind. For the purposes of this, we have split everyone into three categories. Nationwide companies, single-building businesses, and households. 

  • For nationwide companies, 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. 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.
  • For single-building businesses, CBRS is not yet developed enough to provide sufficient network coverage at an effective cost to be better than WiFi alternatives. CBRS solutions have a high bar to pass due to how effective WiFi is at creating an effective workplace environment.
  • For households, it is no surprise that Wi-Fi is the best bet for affordable and fast internet.  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. 

CBRS in the Future

CBRS has a lot of development left in the tank. In a number of years, we would not be surprised if it became one of the primary methods of communication in every field. Until then, however, there is a lot of exciting development happening. While it is not currently able to compete with the likes of WiFi or major wireless networks, CBRS companies are doing some amazing stuff. 

As a note, CBRS is the name for the US band of radio frequency that is driving this technological growth. This same growth is going on in other parts of the world, but they use different frequency bands. There is nothing that makes the CBRS band the best band for this kind of communication, rather it all depends on the region. CBRS equipment that is available worldwide, for instance, has different models for different regions that are able to operate at different frequencies. 

It is hard to say where CBRS will be in five years. Ten years. This rapid development could go in any number of ways, but one thing is for certain. We are excited to watch it develop, and throw our own hat in the ring. The methods which we use to communicate are constantly growing, and there will always be new solutions possible as the variables change on the field. Keep an eye on CBRS as time goes on. As new CBRS equipment is released and new solutions become available, we are confident that amazing things will be accomplished.

Kyle Reyes
Kyles Reyes is a journalist from Pittsburgh, PA that specializes in the wireless industry, phone plan comparisons & advice.
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