LSA: Why are we waiting?

C'mon let's goI have blogged previously about CBRS, and it’s safe to say that we’re big fans of the model here at ip.access. But what of its European counterpart, Licensed Shared Access (LSA)?

ETSI has recently published the stage three specification, with the details of the protocols for the operation of LSA in the 2.3GHz band. Although the specification differs from CBRS in some technical details, and lacks a General Access layer for ad-hoc use, the principle of LSA is very similar. This publication completes the set of specifications that vendors need to get going – so good news right?

Unfortunately, it seems not.

The general view I’m hearing is that LSA is floundering somewhat, despite previous EU mandates for shared access spectrum. The industry gossip that LSA is simply ‘CBRS cut off at the knees’ is a tag that is seemingly difficult to shift. Although the publication of the specification is a forward step, the related architecture and procedures (stage two) definition was actually published in October 2015, and is still at version one. All this tells the rather depressing story that the LSA ship is becalmed before it’s even left the harbour.

However, I think carriers and vendors like ourselves need to take on the challenge of refreshing that picture. Letting LSA stall is a mistake. The principle of spectrum sharing is to be encouraged as it is a fundamentally brilliant model – lowering costs and extending service. It gives end users the cellular access they crave, while also allowing operators to extend their services cost-effectively, with spectrum that can be leased as needed.

And LSA contains within it some clear advantages – even compared to CBRS. The frequency bands under discussion are already well defined as Band 40 (although some countries are leaning towards other spectrum bands for LSA), which means that most handsets already support it. In theory this means that LSA adoption could move faster than CBRS, which is still waiting for widespread handset support.

So while it is not the same as CBRS, and momentum may have stalled, there is a huge amount of promise in LSA.  Moreover, as David Chambers notes in his own article – it is encouraging to see regulators ‘thinking outside the box’ when it comes to spectrum usage. So perhaps all is not lost when it comes to LSA.

One of the issues, I fear, is that Europe is waiting for the right answer to fall in its lap. The FCC has taken a much more experimental view. Indeed, the current FCC Chairman, Ajit Pai, is quoted when a commissioner calling CBRS a test of a theory. At one level this is scary, as no-one likes to build a business on an experiment. At another level it’s incredibly enlightened, as the FCC is admitting that it doesn’t quite know what the commercial ecosystem will look like for CBRS, but by loosening the framework while still insisting on a cellular solution in LTE, it is letting the industry’s creative juices flow. And the evidence is that they are indeed flowing, with all the industry giants lining up to exploit the opportunities enabled by CBRS – Google, Qualcomm, Samsung, Intel, ip.access.

In Europe, those stakeholders – regulators, carriers, infrastructure vendors, but particularly the EC – need to get off the pot and stop waiting for the FCC experiment to bear fruit. The EC needs to loosen its own rules, enforce its “use it or share it” mandate at a national level, and allow a similar pan-European ecosystem to thrive. If that can happen, especially in a well-supported band like 2.3GHz, then you will see momentum, adoption and value stealing a march on the US.

It being W.B. Yeats’ birthday a few days ago, we should take some advice from him:

Do not wait to strike ’til the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

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