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New LTE unlicensed, shared spectrum tech boosts hardware market

Set to disrupt the DAS market, create private LTE networks and attract new entrants


In a recent report examining the network evolution in unlicensed and shared spectrum, ABI Research finds that technologies taking advantage of this spectrum type are not only attracting mobile network operators (MNOs) interest for low cost network densification, but also brand-new entrants. This is due to the opportunities that the network technologies promote for densification, neutral hosts, as well as enterprise and private network operators. The firm further predicts that new LTE unlicensed and shared spectrum technologies will launch a US$1.7 billion hardware market over the next 5 years, including LTE Unlicensed, CBRS, and MulteFire.

“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 technologies appeal to many Communications Service Providers, or CSPs, especially as CBRS pioneers a significant change in spectrum management for the industry. Also, traditional spectrum refarming cannot match the increasing mobile broadband throughput demands in the migration to 5G.”

Given power restrictions in unlicensed and shared spectrum, these technologies are most suitable for small cell indoor or venue deployments. 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.

Transform the in-building wireless and mobile industries

There are many companies innovating in this ecosystem ranging from the Spectrum Access System (SAS) providers and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) operators for CBRS, including Alphabet, CommScope, Federated Wireless, and small cell and infrastructure vendors like BaiCells, Casa Systems, Ericsson, Huawei, ip.access, Nokia, Ruckus, and SpiderCloud.

With CBRS, for instance, one signpost that it will transform the in-building wireless and mobile industries is that the CBRS Alliance, which advocates for CBRS technology, now counts as members all four major US MNOs (AT&T, Verizon, T-Mobile, and Sprint), the major MSOs Comcast and Charter Communications, as well as Google, Intel, Nokia, and Qualcomm.

“We stand at the verge of significant disruption with in-building wireless and spectrum management technologies,” concludes Marshall. “It is technologies such as these that will become essential as networks migrate to 5G and its promise of high data throughput, low latency, and massive machine type communications.”

These findings are from ABI Research’s Network Evolution in Unlicensed and Shared Spectrum report.