An efficient mix of fiber and CBRS-based fixed wireless will ensure maximum impact and the broadest reach.
The $65 billion in federal funds that will be disbursed to state and local governments to improve broadband access across the country presents the nation with an extraordinary and unprecedented opportunity. Will the U.S. answer the call to finally close the digital divide? Is the moment now, as this unique opportunity has become manifest?
State and local governments will need to consider technology options that run the gamut to effectively expand connectivity. It can be done, but it will require careful planning, responsible allocations and subsequent reporting on success metrics.
The largest part of the historic Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act funding is reserved for the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program, budgeted at $42.5 billion, which will be administered by individual states. The principal focus is on first deploying broadband service to unserved locations (that currently have less than 25/3 Mbps broadband service) and underserved locations (less than 100/20 Mbps).
From a technology standpoint, while fiber is certainly a good option in many situations, reaching all unserved areas with fiber is unrealistic given its lengthy installation timeline and high installation costs. Further constrained by current supply chain issues, fiber installations are facing a wait time in the U.S. of over 50 weeks.
A more expedient and effective alternative for consideration is the Citizens Broadband Radio Service, a relatively new addition to the broadband ecosystem, referring to 150 MHz of spectrum in the 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz range (3.5 GHz to 3.7 GHz). Fixed wireless CBRS networks offer faster installations, minimal wait times, cost-effective ROIs, quicker time-to-market and significantly lower costs to deploy and maintain vis-a-vis fiber.
CBRS fixed wireless access is readily obtainable and can be installed in a matter of days. Examples of successful CBRS implementations include cities, school districts, airports, libraries, factories, stadiums and rural farms, to name a few. And these can be easily replicated. With reduced deployment times and lower total cost of ownership, CBRS can ensure widespread broadband access to as many people as possible, as quickly as possible.
According to BEAD’s definition, fixed wireless is required to utilize entirely licensed spectrum or use a hybrid of licensed and unlicensed spectrum. CBRS, a solution approved by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, delivers the best of both worlds, qualifying as licensed spectrum without the high license fees. There are already over a quarter of a million CBRS Service Devices (i.e. base stations) deployed delivering broadband across the country, and numerous wireless ISPs are successfully serving rural America today with CBRS fixed wireless.
State and local government IT leaders are facing a transformational opportunity to leverage an unprecedented amount of federal funding. While planning a grant request, states should strategically map out which areas would be more effectively and realistically served by fiber and which should use CBRS-based fixed wireless. An efficient mix of the two will ensure maximum impact and broader reach. State and local government leaders have a generational opportunity to build broadband better thanks to BEAD funding and a wide array of technology solutions. It’s time to make the right decisions and close the digital divide once and for all.