The coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually every aspect of society, and that too applies to the wireless industry that’s working to keep us connected. In the US, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) recently announced the postponement of what will be a landmark auction in the pursuit of commercialising shared mid-band spectrum.

Auction 105 for Priority Access Licenses (PALs) in the 3.5 GHz CBRS band will now take place on July 23, a month later than originally planned (June 25).

Ajit Pai, Chairman of the FCC, explained “We determined that it was in everyone’s best interest to make these changes. But we remain committed to holding the 3.5 GHz auction this summer and look forward to beginning this important mid-band auction in July.”

Upon completion, auction 105 is expected to mark a turning point in the deployment of the CBRS band as it enables expansion beyond unlicensed use with General Authorised Access (GAA). The PALs set to be released are in Tier 2 of the Spectrum Access System (SAS), affording users precedence over activities in Tier 3.

10 MHz PAL channels will be managed at the county level and span across the lower CBRS band (3550-3650 MHz) and each PAL can be renewed after ten years. Additionally, the FCC has instituted a purchase limit of 70 MHz, with a separate 40 MHz limit applying on a per-county basis for a single entity.

Given the large number of PALs on offer (21,994), and competition from a multitude of stakeholders including mobile operators, utility, private enterprises and fixed wireless access providers, acquisition of this spectrum is anticipated to be relatively cost-effective compared to traditional spectrum auctions.

In our previous “CBRS: What you need to know” article, we detailed a wide array of potential use cases for the CBRS band. The creation of bespoke private cellular networks by a neutral host, mobile operator or the enterprise itself is an emerging trend, and so too is the tapping of shared spectrum by entrant MVNOs and cable operators.

In addition to the above developments, the FCC also recently announced an extension of the April 17 deadline for licensees to transition their Part 90 operations to Part 96 CBRS until October 17, 2020. “Granting this temporary extension will enable Part 90 licensees to focus on continuing to provide high-speed broadband and other critical services during this national state of emergency.”

The transition delay, which was sought by the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), will not impact auction 105.

In other news, Apple’s new lower-cost iPhone SE (from $399) joins the company’s flagship iPhone 11 series in supporting CBRS (LTE band 48). This is a welcome development that will propel the CBRS ecosystem forward by making support accessible to more consumers than ever before and, crucially, expanding support beyond the high-end.

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