Growing use of unlicensed (unlicensed spectrum aggregated with licensed spectrum) and shared spectrum (Citizens Broadband Radio Service) to support mobile communications will create new opportunities for competitors or partners in the mobile access business.
Given power restrictions in unlicensed and shared spectrum, these technologies are most suitable for small cell indoor or venue deployments, one can argue. That will benefit mobile service providers serving indoor or other venues such as sports stadiums or campuses.
But availability of aggregated and shared spectrum (CBRS) might also create new opportunities for “venue communications providers” or new entrants in the mobile business (cable companies, Google, others).
With low to no spectrum acquisition costs and deployment economics comparable to Wi-Fi, in-building wireless penetration in the vast middle-sized and enterprise verticals will increase dramatically and account for more than half of in-building small cell shipments in 2021, ABI predicts.
ABI Research predicts that new LTE unlicensed and shared spectrum technologies will launch a US$1.7 billion hardware market over the next five years, including LTE Unlicensed, CBRS, and MulteFire (4G using unlicensed spectrum) deployments.
“LTE-U/LAA will appeal to MNOs planning to densify but with insufficient spectrum or capex to acquire it,” says Nick Marshall, Research Director at ABI Research. “Meanwhile, MulteFire and CBRS technologies promise very low network buildout costs with economics that threaten to disrupt the DAS market.”
The range of potential users shows wide interest. The CBRS Alliance includes all four major U.S. mobile operators (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint), the major cable companies Comcast and Charter Communications, as well as Google, Intel, Nokia, and Qualcomm.