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The Ultimate Guide to CBRS Priority Access Licenses

Kyle Reyes
January 19, 2023

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The Citizens Broadband Radio Service has a level of operation denoted the Priority Access Licenses. These licenses give companies priority access to the spectrum for the growth of their private networks. There are a few dozen companies with PAL access, and these companies have to purchase licenses in the auction in order to receive protection from the General Authorized Access tier of CBRS, which everyone has access to. This article will discuss the overall impact of CBRS PALs in the telecommunications industry in America, as well as how the spectrum is allocated to its users, how they operate, and how it is being deployed into the country. 

These three tiers are how the regulatory agencies overseeing the CBRS deployment can ensure that everyone has the access they need when they need it. Image courtesy of Google

What is the CBRS PAL? 

The CBRS PAL users have protection from GAA users through an allocation of the spectrum for their use. This means that if a company, like Verizon, with PAL licenses creates a network of CBRS devices in New York they have priority over that much of the CBRS spectrum over any GAA user in the area. 

The licenses of the PAL are slices of the 150 MHz spectrum that allow companies to have priority access to that part of the spectrum. There are thousands of licenses, and companies have purchased hundreds or thousands of licenses to create stable networks on the CBRS spectrum. They are, however, not cheap. Verizon spent almost 2 billion dollars to win 557 licenses, and Dish network is behind them, having spent almost a billion to win 5,492 licenses of their own. 

CBRS PAL users are protected where they have deployed CBSDs (or CBRS devices) and only in their designated channels, which is why so many companies wanted to win as many licenses as possible. They only have protection where they have deployed CBSDs, which leaves that spectrum open in areas of the country where they are not. 

Three Tiers of CBRS Deployment

The FCC released CBRS for private use in three tiers. The entire spectrum (3.55 GHz to 3.7 GHz) is shared amongst those tiers, and the tiers are incumbents, priority access licenses (PALs), and general authorized access (GAAs). The incumbents are those who used the spectrum before 2016, and they have priority access to the spectrum. The other two tiers are what came about from these changes, and the three tiers operate on the CBRS spectrum by carefully sharing the frequency band.

  • 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. 

How does Each Tier Affect the Others? 

Each tier has an important impact on the others. Before the CBRS was released to the public, the incumbent tier (mainly the Department of Defense) had full reign of the whole spectrum. As it was released to more and more people, the FCC had to figure out how to continue providing the incumbent tier with the unobstructed access to which they were accustomed. There is a lot of regulation going on to give everyone the access that they need. 


Incumbents have full protection from the other tiers. They have the highest priority on the CBRS spectrum. SAS providers ensure that communications from incumbents have a wide berth where the spectrum is clear and secure for their broadcast. The protection zone extends some 200 miles, which is enough for any communications from incumbents to be completely insured against any interference. 

The Spectrum Access Service (SAS) is in charge of clearing the way for their communications to travel wherever they need. Every day, CBRS SAS providers do something called the Coordinated Periodic Activity among SAS (CPAS). This mouthful of an operation ensures that every SAS provider is up to date with the latest broadcasting information in order to properly protect incumbents and PALs. 

This protection is crucial. The FCC, in creating the CBRS spectrum, is stretching it out over the entire United States to give as many people access as possible and to optimize its use. 

Priority Access Licenses

The section tier, PALs, have interference protection from the GAA tier. Importantly, PAL users only have protection when they are in the range of deployed CBSDs. This is perfect for businesses that have office buildings, or service providers who have robust networks of towers upon which to deploy CBSDs. This keeps the owners of PALs (who have paid an arm and a leg for their licenses) to enjoy networks that operate on the CBRS spectrum with its increased strength, speed, and range. 

General Authorized Access

The final tier is the GAA tier. Anyone can operate on this tier as long as they submit the right paperwork to the SAS and register their devices. Each county has channels dedicated to the GAA tier, which means that no combination of PALs are able to occupy the whole bandwidth at one time. Incumbents do not operate under those same rules. CBRS PALs can occupy 7 of the 15 channels in a county, which means that they have unobstructed access to the bandwidth as long as there are no incumbent-level transmissions passing through. 

Spectrum Access Service

The Spectrum Access Service is the watchtower that allocates lower-tier CBRS spectrums in the shadows of higher-tier users. 

The Spectrum Access service is the grease on the intricate clockwork that is CBRS. These databases are there to ensure that the higher tiers are always protected from interference from the lower tiers. This means, however, that service is not guaranteed for GAA or PAL users. The exact amount of interference PAL users receive from the incumbent tier is not exact, but they have access to the spectrum almost all the time. This lets companies like Verizon deploy CBSDs all over the country to power up their mobile network, allowing for faster speeds and more bandwidth available in high-traffic areas. 

The auction of the Priority Access Licenses was an intense affair. The top 20 companies to auction for PALs are

  • Verizon with 557 licenses
  • Dish Network with 5,492 licenses
  • Charter with 210 licenses
  • Comcast with 830 licenses
  • Cox with 470 licenses
  • Southern California Edison with 20 licenses
  • Windstream with 1,014 licenses
  • Mediacom with 576 licenses
  • Nextlink Internet with 1,072 licenses
  • JBG SMITH with 7 licenses
  • Sempra Energy with 3 licenses
  • ATN International with 1,569 licenses
  • Claro Puerto Rico with 231 licenses
  • Alabama Power with 271 licenses
  • Shentel with 262 licenses
  • VTX1 Companies with 112 licenses
  • Viaero with 558 licenses
  • U.S. Cellular with 243 licenses
  • Watch Communications with 517 licenses
  • Cable One with 547 licenses

This list was in the order of the amount of money each company paid, not the total amount of licenses they received. Some of the licenses are much more expensive than others since there are certain counties in major metropolitan areas that are sought after and, due to that, rather expensive. 

Spectrum Acces Service Providers


The first of the five companies is Amdocs, which is providing CBRS-based private wireless network deployments with end-to-end solutions, including CBRS PALs. They combine SAS capabilities and network integration. While Amdocs has a number of products, as a CBRS SAS provider, they focus on radio frequency channel allocation and interference protection for all of their clients. 


For over four decades, CommScope has provided wireless network and spectrum management solutions that have led the pack in their industry. They operate both SAS and ESC, enabling full access to the CBRS spectrum for users in every kind of enterprising industry.

While CommScope is an international company, its CBRS technology is limited to the United States. Different regions have different models that are designed to operate on the frequency of that region. CBRS is the big private network frequency in the United States, but the 3550 to 3700 MHz range is not a worldwide band, just a US band. 

Federated Wireless

Federated Wireless provides innovation and services to create a connected future. They are the market leaders in the shared spectrum, creating opportunities for many enterprises, like CBRS PALs, to connect to and make use of the shared spectrum in the United States and all over the world. 

Federated Wireless prides itself on its values and wants to be a successful and trustworthy company for all of its clients and users. Their values are as follows:

  • Transparency. Federated Wireless believes transparency is crucial to creating a collaborative environment within and without the company. 
  • Empowerment. On every level of the company, this CBRS SAS provider wants everyone to have a voice and a way to collaborate and contribute to projects and decisions. 
  • Collaboration. Federated Wireless wants to be a trusted and respected company with all of its clients, where they can work together to make something awesome. 
  • Velocity. Innovation is happening at an ever-increasing pace, and quality work done quickly is essential in staying ahead of the game and providing excellent service. Every mistake that Federated Wireless makes is documented, analyzed, and never made again.
  • Customer Success. This CBRS SAS provider will always go above and beyond to ensure that their customers are getting fantastic service and products. 


Google has driven CBRS SAS success for many years and as a CBRS SAS provider, they have a strong incentive to create a growth environment for CBRS all across the country. As networks grow and grow, Google’s CBRS team is working to find the best solutions for high and low-density areas, providing the best speeds at minimal costs. The nation has grown to expect nothing less than high-speed coverage at all times. CBRS provides an excellent solution to that puzzle, adding capacity at reduced costs. 


The Sony Group Corporation has a long-standing foothold in the entertainment and technology industries. They offer one of the leading gaming platforms, music, movies, and more in the entertainment division and also create electronics and semiconductors. It is no surprise that Sony has joined the crew to create a successful and exciting growth environment for CBRS PAL users across the country, as CBRS is driving technological innovation. 

OnGo Alliance: CBRS PAL Solutions

The OnGo Alliance is a global company that wants to provide private network solutions to all. While there are a wide variety of solutions they provide, many of them are geared toward larger companies at this moment. 

The OnGo Alliance is a conglomerate of companies that are interested in continuing the growth of private networks all around the world. They started as the CBRS Alliance, but have recently rebranded as they have grown from a U.S. company to a worldwide company. They provide solutions all over the world. This corporation is all about creating an environment where wireless technology solutions are available to all. 

The OnGo Alliance in the United States has created a variety of positive effects throughout the country in the short time that it’s been in action. As companies grow, there are many doors opened when the speed that data travels increases. Data travel speed is a huge limiting factor in the upper limit of what networks are able to accomplish, and already the OnGo alliance has affected change in some of the biggest networks in the United States. 

The OnGo Alliance believes 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 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. 

Who Uses the PAL Spectrum? 

The Priority Access Licenses are best for larger companies in the United States. Small companies have purchased one or a few licenses that cover the county in which they reside, but companies who were interested in hundreds or thousands of licenses needed tremendous quantities of money on the table to be able to continue their bidding as the auction continued. 

You may have used the CBRS PAL spectrum and not even known it! Some of the major wireless networks are bolstering their service in those same major metropolitan areas. Especially as the prevalence of MVNOs continues and people start using more and more data, companies are forced to create stronger and faster networks to keep the data traffic quick and efficient. 

On another hand, a lot of companies are creating private networks that want a few licenses on the CBRS PAL. This would ensure that they can create a private grid in the area and have priority access to the CBRS spectrum over any GAA users close by. Warehouses, hospitals, retail, and other kinds of companies want the security of the PAL spectrum, especially in areas where it is unlikely that there will be any incumbent interference. 

How will the CBRS PAL Spectrum Develop? 

There are a lot of possible paths forward in the development of the CBRS PAL spectrum. While the auction has given companies a ton of licenses and access to the network, there will be another auction in a number of years where the holders of those licenses may change. This is a very exciting time for those looking to get into the CBRS spectrum, as so much is currently on the table. 

A lot of companies are creating CBRS solutions for the PAL tier and the GAA tier that allow people to set up networks of their own. Decentralized networks are growing in popularity all throughout the United States and through a lot of different kinds of companies. Decentralized networks are great ways for companies of all sizes to create a network optimized for the use of their processes, machines, and employees. 

These past few years have seen incredible development in the CBRS PAL spectrum, especially in the telecommunications industry. Major networks like Verizon have scooped up a lot of licenses to create stronger and faster networks. As 5G rolls out, the CBRS spectrum-backed networks will be able to hold up the intense data usage of the next tier of devices.

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