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In-building wireless: The role of shared spectrum and neutral host small cells

Current construction trends and tenant desires are somewhat at odds – at a time when building owners and lease holders increasingly view wireless as a utility, new construction geared toward energy efficiency often has the side effect of degrading wireless coverage. The obvious solution to solve for in-building wireless is a distributed antenna system, but the high price point puts DAS out of reach of many small- and medium-sized facilities.

Ruckus Wireless, a division of Brocade, which was recently acquired by Broadcom pending closing machinations, is betting on the combination of shared spectrum models and neutral host small cells as the solution to addressing in-building wireless without the major investment that comes with a DAS deployment. Ruckus Wireless calls this approach OpenG.

“The wireless industry is dramatically shifting as cellular and Wi-Fi technologies converge, and lines are blurring between traditional spectrum management models … with the new coordinated shared spectrum 3.5 GHz model.” Selina Lo, CEO of the Ruckus Wireless Business United for Brocade said. “OpenG technology combines coordinated shared spectrum capabilities with neutral host capable small cells to enable building owners of all sizes to deploy cost-effective in-building cellular coverage for all of their customer and employee needs.”

Last year, the U.S. Federal Communications Commission opened up 150 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.5 GHz band. Dubbed the Citizens Radio Broadband Service, the new commercially accessible spectrum  was previously dedicated to the U.S. Department of Defense. The CBRS Alliance, led by Ruckus, Google, Intel, Nokia, Ericsson, Federated Wireless and Qualcomm, was formed to perpetuate shared spectrum solutions geared toward use in the 3.5 GHz band. The applicable FCC rules protect existing uses of the spectrum while coordinating new uses based on priority and location.

For an enterprise, this makes a cellular deployment work like a Wi-F deployment, cutting costs by leveraging existing Wi-Fi infrastructure.

Neutral host small cells are viewed as a great alternative to DAS, particularly for enterprise customers. While a DAS supports multiple carriers, it’s significantly more expensive than small cells, which have traditionally been a one-carrier solution. That doesn’t really work for many businesses, particularly given the bring-your-own-device trend. ABI Research identifies two neutral host small cell models: “A network operated by a single company where resources are being shared by multiple mobile network operators…[and] the special case of network sharing through the use of the same small cell equipment with the capability of hosting multiple RANs.”

Expect enterprise customers to increasingly look to deal with stagnant carrier spending by embracing spectrum sharing and neutral host small cells as a way to solve for their own in-building wireless issues.


Sean Kinney, Editor in Chief
Editor-in-Chief Sean focuses on multiple subject areas including 5G, Open RAN, hybrid cloud, edge computing, and Industry 4.0. He also hosts Arden Media's podcast Will 5G Change the World? Prior to his work at RCR, Sean studied journalism and literature at the University of Mississippi then spent six years based in Key West, Florida, working as a reporter for the Miami Herald Media Company. He currently lives in Fayetteville, Arkansas.

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