In 2020 we saw the world come to a standstill. Lockdowns made offices and streets near empty. As people moved all their work and entertainment to home, it put that much more stress on the broadband network, which now more than ever, became critical for people to carry on with their daily lives. The promise of the transformational access technologies such as 5G – whenever and wherever they will first be available – is very much in the spotlight.
Along with 5G, next-gen Wi-Fi is also expected to get a facelift (yep, we need that, with everyone at home, we need every corner of the house to be able to receive decent Internet signals). Dubbed as Wi-Fi 6, it promises not only to boost the speed of individual devices but, more importantly, improve the Wi-Fi capacity allowing more devices to be hooked up to it.
As we look at near-term solutions before 5G becomes ubiquitous, there is one in the spotlight that garnered the most attention: shared spectrum. After the FCC released the 3.5 GHz band called the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS), the shared spectrum initiative unleashed commercial opportunities for a slew of service providers and enterprises: telecom carriers looking to extend their 4G LTE coverage; cable operators who want to venture into wireless play; ISP upstarts; even enterprises that are looking to deploy IoT services see the CBRS spectrum as a way to connect their IoT devices and build out their own private 4G IoT networks. Hence, many trials are underway. When you have Google, AT&T, Verizon and Charter in the picture, the initiatives get attention fast.
Shared CBRS spectrum is meant to tap into the underused bandwidth to deliver broadband services. One of the primary applications of CBRS spectrum seems to be fixed wireless access (FWA) – an operation where wireless communication devices are used to connect two fixed locations. This is a game changer for operators who can now expand their network coverage, particularly in rural areas, without having to lay last mile fiber cables. As one cable executive was quoted saying at a Light Reading session at the SCTE conference last year, a CBRS-powered fixed wireless network is an opportunity for the MSOs to "extend our HFC plant and offer broadband services in more rural territories.”
As you start working with vendors and sorting out network communications issues, before you rush to trials and light up services, you’ll need to check the following 6 boxes to make sure you set your CBRS sail on the right path.
First of all, in order to avoid vendor lock-in, you want to have a few options when it comes to the CPE devices you’ll deploy. Therefore, you need to take a multi-vendor approach. You’ll need more than one device vendor to work with. You don’t want to be left out of the race just because you’re locked-in with a particular vendor that may not be able to fully support industry standards. Device quality matters. Which is also why you need to…
These LTE outdoors devices are new. Some are fully tested, while others aren’t. Make sure they are fully compliant with the industry standard for device communications based on the Broadband Forum’s TR-069 protocol. A bad choice of vendors and devices often dooms a CBRS trial. For example, poor-quality devices that constantly lose connection to the cell tower and send reboot requests, cause significant project delays and fail to gather the parameters you need to monitor and collect to measure your Quality of Service. There is one caveat, though: LTE parameters are not completely standardized by TR-069, so only an agile and robust device management platform can handle the intricacies of auto-discovery and configure these devices in runtime, without you having to resort to backend configuration, which often has to be done manually. So, fully testing a quality device on a robust management platform would reduce your pains significantly.
Which leads us to the next point.
You’ll need a robust, multi-vendor device management platform which will enable you to monitor and control these devices, by executing such operations as provisioning, firmware updates, updating security settings remotely, but also provide full automation. Sending technicians onsite not only costs money, but also results in project delays.
When planning a CBRS project, you have to think about 2 keywords: “remote” and “massive”. Trials for a few hundreds of devices are a lot easier to handle, but you’ll have to look beyond trials to commercial deployment of a significantly bigger number of devices.
Remote management – including provisioning, firmware updates, fault management and troubleshooting – is key to administrating hundreds of devices. A robust system should also come with flexible tools to manage operations such as massive firmware campaigns or security patch updates.
Make sure that you select a platform that provides a powerful device grouping mechanism which makes it possible for you to easily and flexibly group your devices and then manage them in bulk.
Massive monitoring is also important to understand how the regions/device types are working. Aggregated data about LTE parameters, heatmaps, bandwidth or latency are helpful in network planning to possibly extend the density of coverage or plan necessary upgrades and fixes.
Monitoring and alerting of problems – like frequent reboots, cell swapping or deviation from the average – helps pinpoint issues and can even be used in preventive maintenance.
Receiving reliable speed is a tablestake for a customer to sign up and stick around. For troubleshooting, it is essential to provide the Customer Care team with the right set of automation tools to perform quick diagnostics, resolution, and customer communication tasks. Furthermore, having a management platform that can send out alerts and suggest preventive actions even before problems actually arise can greatly enhance customer experience.
Communication between the cell and the devices is critical. These outdoor, LTE-like devices receive signals from the cell tower and LTE parameters like RSRP, RSRQ, RSSI, SNR indicate how good the network and connection are, and what is the state of the BTS and CPE.
With GeoMapping features, you’ll have the ability to visualize the network and CPEs deployed, so you can physically locate the CPEs and determine which cell they are connected to on a geographical level. This will give you insights into the quality of the parameters they have and allow you to take action, should they be unsatisfactory.
CBRS offers great opportunities for operators to extend their network reach and provide compelling services in a cost-effective manner. However, despite the excitement, you’ll need to be prepared to dig into the nitty-gritty details of deployment challenges. Starting from business case rationalizations to technical parameters that you’ll need to monitor, and security concerns, you’ll need to orchestrate the internal teams to plan out your processes. The goal should always be providing the customer with consistent, quality services. As with everything else in life, talk to experts who can help in your journey and rely on trusted solutions that will aid you in achieving your goals. In the meantime, good luck with your progress.
About the author:
William Yan is currently President, Americas and Maciej Dudek a Pre-sales Engineer at AVSystem sp.j., a device management and data orchestration platform provider. With extensive experience in the IoT and CBRS field, AVSystem’s multi-protocol, multi-vendor device provisioning and management platform, UMP, has been deployed in over 40 countries.