Sharing Within CBRS Band Offers Opportunity to Bridge the Digital Divide

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Wireless network sharing is one business model that would allow operators to reduce their service costs, enabling them to provide more wireless broadband coverage in rural areas. The emergence of spectrum available for sharing, specifically within the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, removes one of the major hurdles for network sharing in the U.S. — the patchwork of spectrum holdings across wireless networks, says rural communications lender CoBank in a new report.

“CBRS band spectrum is nationwide and accessible to all operators,” said CoBank Communications Economist Jeff Johnston. “It appears that all national wireless operators will acquire some licensed CBRS spectrum, so eventually all phones in their portfolios will support the CBRS band. This is critically important for network sharing.”

Network sharing is a way for national wireless operators to reduce their network cost structure in rural areas. These cost savings would enable operators to expand coverage to rural markets they would have otherwise avoided. However, the approach does present challenges.

“First, large tower owners usually don’t allow network sharing because less equipment on a tower means less revenue for operators,” said CoBank Communications Economist Jeff Johnston. “Second, network operators are fiercely competitive and getting independent-minded operators to agree on network configurations will be a challenge.”

Johnston points to a few key factors that could motivate operators to engage in this type of network sharing. Perhaps most important is the influence from investors focused on corporate social responsibility.

“More investors are adopting responsible principles, specifically environmental, social, and governance investing and are seeking out companies that employ these principles. Leading a creative solution to help bridge the digital divide while reducing costs could be a prudent strategy for operators that’s also viewed favorably by regulators.”

Watch a video synopsis and read the report, “Network Sharing Could be the Creative Way to Bridge the Digital Divide.”

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