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FCC authorizes commercial use of 3.5GHz CBRS band, opens door to faster iPhone connectivity

The Federal Communications Commission on Monday authorized commercialization of OnGo services in the 3.5GHz CBRS band, a move that promises to deliver faster, more reliable cellular data connectivity for compatible devices like Apple's iPhone.

An effort led by the 159-member Citizens Broadcast Radio Service Alliance, OnGo is a set of shared spectrum solutions designed to benefit existing and future wireless services, including 4G and 5G cellular data capacity. The system operates in the 3.5GHz spectrum band, which was officially authorized for full commercial deployment by the FCC after a long and arduous development period.

Work toward commercialization began in 2013 when the FCC sought a shared spectrum model for the previously restricted band. Prior to commercialization, the 3.5GHz band was in use by a handful of approved government entities including the Department of Defense. The new arrangement enables existing government to maintain immediate access to wireless assets while opening valuable spectrum for public use.

A member of the public-private CBRS Alliance, the DOD leverages the band for naval systems, a practice that will continue thanks to the installation of Environmental Sensing Capability networks deployed along U.S. coastlines. When the DOD requires access to spectrum, ESC networks alert Spectrum Access System administrators CommScope, Federated Wireless and Google to create a protection zone that dynamically reassigns public users to other parts of the band.

Sony is also noted as an SAS administrator, though it appears the company will not manage ESC in the U.S.

"The Defense Department worked closely with our federal partners at the NTIA and FCC, and with industry, to ensure that our mission critical operations would be protected while enabling new commercial uses," said Dana Deasy, Chief Information Officer for the DOD. "Collectively, we were able to creatively address the engineering and security challenges associated with military and commercial spectrum sharing. We look to build upon those successes going forward."

The newly opened 3.5GHz band, branded as OnGo by the CBRS, will initially serve as a backbone for 4G services and is expected to support the coming rollout of 5G networks in the U.S. Globally, 3.5GHz is predominantly used for 5G services, but American carriers have been unable to follow suit due to government restrictions.

FCC chairman Ajit Pai in a statement today said freeing up mid-band spectrum is a priority for the agency as the U.S. moves toward 5G.

"And today, I'm pleased to announce the latest step to achieve that priority: the approval of four systems that will enable the 3.5 GHz band to be put to use for the benefit of American consumers and businesses," Pai said. "As with all of our efforts to execute on the 5G FAST plan, we're pushing to get next-generation wireless services deployed in the 3.5 GHz band as quickly and efficiently as possible."

As characterized by CBRS, OnGo "presents nearly limitless options for enhanced customizability and allows users to tailor networks to a specific set of needs, such as Private LTE, neutral host and Industrial IoT applications."

Apple's iPhone 11, 11 Pro and 11 Pro Max are among the batch of current handsets compatible with the 3.5GHz CBRS band and should see enhanced performance once OnGo is activated on commercial networks.