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CBRS, LAA and haven't we been here before?

There is a cutting-edge technology aiming to increase blanket connectivity, solve for the last mile and provide a new approach to delivering high-quality connections. It is being tested in underserved markets, and technology leaders such as Google and Microsoft are investing heavily in it.

Today, the statements above would be about the CBRS and LAA bands, but five short years ago, they would have referred to white spaces, the unused frequencies between channels allocated to various broadcasting services. The utilization of white spaces hasn’t yet materialized in the way that its benefactors expected, but there are lessons and takeaways that companies in today’s IoT ecosystem should consider from the once popular “next big thing.”

The regulatory battle

One of the reasons that white space initiatives have been slow to materialize has to do with regulations. Many of the TV broadcasters were loath to give up spectrum that they controlled, leaving a challenge for the FCC in terms of creating usable swaths of available spectrum. Similarly, LAA has come into a variety of political and regulatory issues as well. For instance, the New York City mayor’s office has expressed concerns over use of the LAA band due to the city’s heavy investment in Wi-Fi, fearing that there might be interference.

This isn’t to say that usage of CBRS or LAA will ultimately be regulated out of usage, but it is something that companies planning to implement these technologies should be aware of, given the limited growth regarding white spaces.

The last last mile

White spaces were hyped as a solution for providing rural connectivity and solving for the digital divide in the U.S. In fact, Microsoft is still a believer in this approach, planning to provide broadband connectivity to 2 million in people in rural America by 2022. One of the biggest challenges to overcome for the last mile has to do with the actual infrastructure to support connectivity. This can be in the form of fiber that provides backhaul for signals, or the physical towers necessary to broadcast a frequency.

Today, we are seeing some of the same hurdles regarding this issue. Small cell technology, which can be used to create mesh networks for CBRS or LAA, is running into challenges across the U.S. as well. For IoT companies looking to stay ahead of competitor, it’s important to be aware of which bands are gaining access to the infrastructure necessary to maintain connection and which are not.

All of the above

The lack of hype around white spaces shouldn’t be considered as a death knell for usage of the bands, nor should it be a harbinger of bad news for the CBRS or LAA frequencies. Microsoft is still moving forward with white space initiatives, while Charter is rolling out a wireless network based on CBRS. The realities of blanket wireless connectivity, however, will ultimately be more nuanced and inclusive than some sort of “either/or” answer. In fact, the better answer might just be “all of the above.” With more than 20 billion devices expected to have some sort of connection by 2020, creating a network that can support all of them will require a combination of approaches. While CBRS and LAA will be important, white spaces may still have a significant role to play.

All IoT Agenda network contributors are responsible for the content and accuracy of their posts. Opinions are of the writers and do not necessarily convey the thoughts of IoT Agenda.

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