We see two clearly distinct market segments for initial CBRS deployments. The first segment is for private LTE networks for secure mission critical IoT and voice/data applications that do not require any public access. The second segment is pretty much all other enterprises that need a combination of both private LTE as well as public access connectivity. The early adopters of private LTE over CBRS will be hotels/casinos, public venues, warehouses, and industrial/manufacturing.
Each segment has its own set of challenges and motivations to consider when deploying an indoor LTE network using CBRS spectrum. Generally speaking, previous use cases for a private LTE network evolved around the need for:
- Greater mobility as (a) large areas of coverage are needed (as in warehouses)
- Higher security as LTE is deemed more secure than Wi-Fi because of the SIM/hardware requirements, and last,
- Greater reliability due to a cleaner RF environment free from interference.
We have not seen evidence for the need for super low latencies at this point in time, a feature greatly promoted in the 5G discourse.
Accessing managed shared spectrum is a great driver for new indoor deployments, but it only solves part of the puzzle that CBRS represents for stakeholders. Deploying and managing an LTE core network remains a challenge, despite notable improvements in price and level of complexity. There are currently three approaches to deploying an LTE evolved packet core (EPC) network.
The EPC piece
In the Multi-Operator Core Network (MOCN) approach, a single radio access network (RAN) is shared among various Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) who would open up their S1 gateways. At present, operators are not yet supporting this approach, as they are reluctant to open up their S1 gateway interface to strangers. Nevertheless, the industry is hopeful that this will change in the upcoming two years.
In the Neutral Host Network (NHN) approach, all or part of the CBRS system is deployed and maintained by a third-party entity who will be responsible for deploying an EPC and negotiating roaming agreements with each operator.
In the third approach, a private EPC is deployed by the enterprise for its own purposes only and may or may not negotiate roaming with third parties. Usually a private EPC is used to connect IoT and private SIM card devices. Enterprises need to be capable of managing all the data traffic they generate and to secure it; to comply with applicable legal intercept and privacy regulations; and to apply data analytics to support quick decision-making at the edge of the work, but on their own premises. And what enterprises really need is predictable performance, to the extent of enabling SLA-backed and mission critical reliability.
The RAN piece
The radio access network (RAN) is an equally challenging part of the overall LTE network architecture that CBRS relies on. We see two distinct paths for enterprise users to embark upon. The first and more difficult one is to purchase and manage the entire RAN, including vBBU/RRUs which we would not recommend unless it is mission critical to have the network locally onsite. The second option that we believe many enterprises may choose is to outsource and deploy a vBBU/RRU or small cell network to a NHN operator or another third party operator. Maintaining and optimizing an LTE network is more difficult than a Wi-Fi network.
CBRS is a business and technological puzzle, and many pieces still need to come together for this novel approach to spectrum sharing to work. Pricing models and economics for CBRS are barely nascent and will require time to mature. EPC as a service (EPCaaS) is a promising alternative to the traditional do-it-yourself approach, but many pieces still need to be solved, including creating a dynamic roaming mechanism. Enterprise system integrators need to learn and embrace the CBRS opportunity. They are those companies that provide Wi-Fi integration and support to hotels, hospitals, and office buildings, but they are still ignorant about the LTE world, and that needs to change for CBRS to take off. The device ecosystem itself is slowly emerging.
During our investigations, we have not found much evidence that operators will rush to provide CBRS service to offices over 50,000 square feet, at least not before 2022. The economics and complexity of private LTE, including the necessity to reach roaming agreements, still make it a tedious and expensive venture for most buildings.
Link to download the report brochure at https://shop.maravedis-bwa.com/products/cbrs-the-indoor-market-opportunity-and-forecasts-2019-2024