FCC Assigns Spectrum to Create Citizens Broadband Radio Service

NEWS ANALYSIS: New 3.5 GHz band will allow what the Federal Communications Commission calls innovative uses to take advantage of a variety of wireless technologies.

Citizens Band Wireless 2

Assuming everything goes according to plans announced on March 27, the Federal Communications Commission will create a new wireless data service that's intended for what Chairman Tom Wheeler calls "innovative uses" by consumers, carriers and data services.

The designated wireless spectrum is located in the 3.5 GHz band, basically halfway between the 2.4 and 5 GHz WiFi bands. Apparently because of the open-ended nature of the proposed use, the new service will be called the Citizens Broadband Radio Service.

The FCC staffers handling the press briefing shortly before the release of the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking couldn't resist the temptation to sprinkle their discussion with CB lingo, answering some questions with things like "10-4." While it wasn't clear that the new data service would perpetuate the lawless nature of its analog namesake, there are some similarities.

The new band is designed to support activities including small cell deployments, fixed wireless broadband services and something the FCC calls general consumer use. As is the case with CB radio, the licensing requirements are attached to the FCC-approved communications equipment, meaning that there's no requirement for individual users to obtain licenses, even for commercial use.

The new broadband service would use a tiered approach to accessing the frequencies, while also protecting existing users in the same band. This would require both access to FCC databases of existing users in a specific geographical area and the use of what the FCC is calling "sensing" technology in which wireless equipment would first listen on a specific frequency it intends to use before transmitting.

Currently, the frequencies involved range from 3550 to 3650 MHz, with expansion to include the next 50 megahertz, or up to 3700 MHz. The current occupants of these frequencies are primarily federal users, most of which use the frequencies for radar. There are also a few legacy satellite communications services occupying this region of spectrum.

The top tier is existing users of the band that are immune from interference. Tier two would consist of licensed wireless providers who must avoid interfering with existing users in the band, but who would be free from interference in lower tiers. Those licensed providers would gain their access through spectrum auctions. The third tier that the FCC will designate for the 3.5 GHz band consists of unlicensed users who are deploying the licensed radio equipment and who would be required to avoid interfering with other stations on higher tiers.

Unlike many spectrum assignment plans, the CBRS would not specify the type of use.

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash

Wayne Rash is a freelance writer and editor with a 35 year history covering technology. He’s a frequent speaker on business, technology issues and enterprise computing. He covers Washington and...