CBRS Spectrum Auction – The Summer Event Not to Miss!

PAL Bidders need to be armed with critical data around channel availability, competitive landscape, and valuation insights to be successful.

After years of development, the CBRS Spectrum Auction is finally upon us and is scheduled to commence on July 23, 2020. This release is an important one for spectrum bidders because there are nuances present with this band of spectrum that can be leveraged strategically to align with competitive positioning in the marketplace and to ultimately improve the end-user experience.

70 MHz of spectrum of Priority Access Licenses (PALs) will be divided into seven channels and auctioned on a county by county basis. This spectrum band is exceptionally versatile, as it is being considered for use cases including private LTE/5G networks, fixed wireless broadband, and capacity and coverage for both new and existing wireless providers. The PALs represent seven of the 15 overall channels designated in the CBRS band; outlined below:

CBRS Band Plan (source: FCC)

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This auctin is unique as it drives opportunity and complexity to develop bidding strategies. The spectrum is “shared” amongst the following users, with specific priorities assigned to the incumbent users:

  • Tier 1:  Incumbent Access Users such as the DoD, Fixed Satellite Service (FSS) earth stations, and existing wireless providers (generally WISPS), whose impact will range greatly depending on the county or even census block.
  • Tier 2: PAL awardees, from Auction 105.
  • Tier 3: Unlicensed – General Authorized Access (GAA). GAA users can operate throughout the CBRS MHz band. GAA users must not cause harmful interference to Incumbent Access users or PAL licensees and must accept interference from them.

The sharing is accommodated by a Spectrum Access System (SAS), which facilitates sharing among the three tiers of authorized users. There is a greater ability for the license holder to partition and disaggregate their licenses, as well as partially assign or transfer their licenses. This will create an active secondary market for enterprises or other entities who seek to deploy a private network.

Therefore, valuing this spectrum is more complex than previous bands. Why?

  • The type of bidders are more diverse – they can range from traditional carriers, MSOs, internet providers, enterprises, financial entities, and others.
  • The use cases are also equally diverse, including private networks, small cell connectivity, smart cities, fixed wireless broadband, and mobile wireless service.
  • The existence of the unlicensed spectrum provides a potential substitute for some users, but its available characteristics can vary based on demand from the higher priority tiers and demographic characteristics.
  • And finally, the availability and the degree of encumbrance caused by the incumbents, particularly the DoD/radar and FSS earth stations, is not well understood by bidders.

There are considerable business and technical competitive advantages possible as a result of this spectrum auction. JLA and its partner Federated Wireless have assembled a unique data set that includes both detailed enterprise, consumer, and demographic data at the county and census block group (CBG) level, as well as PAL channel availability and encumbrance data. The data quantifies both the availability of the channel(s) at the county and CBG level; and if encumbered, the degree of the encumbrance.

If you are considering your CBRS participation and your strategies and want to be armed with this unique data and analysis, please contact Jorge Fuenzalida at JLA Advisors (Private Message through LinkedIn, or jfuenzalida@jlaadvisors.io) to learn more.

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