Alaska’s GCI builds a 5G network with help from Ericsson

GCI is bringing all its assets to deliver 5G, including fiber, spectrum and wireless footprint. (Getty Images)

Anchorage, Alaska will join a growing list of cities around the world that offer 5G mobile services. GCI announced today a partnership with Ericsson to build a 5G network in Anchorage.

Starting this summer, the partners will deploy Ericsson’s 3GPP standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) hardware and software to 82 macro cell sites across Anchorage in an area larger than the state of Rhode Island. GCI’s metro fiber network will provide backhaul services to these sites, which include both towers and building locations. The project will be completed in 2020 with initial 5G service coming online in the first half of that year.

GCI CEO Ron Duncan said in press conference that the company is bringing all its assets to deliver 5G, including its fiber, cable plant, spectrum and wireless footprint. GCI controls 210 MHz of mobile radio spectrum in Anchorage, including low-band 600 MHz, 700 MHz, and 850 MHz spectrum and mid-band PCS and AWS spectrum. GCI’s 5G NR deployment will take advantage of all five of these radio bands.

GCI has a history of leading in technology to provide telecommunications services to Alaskans. The company provides data, mobile, video, voice and managed services to consumer and business customers. “GCI has become one of the few quad-play providers in the US,” said Duncan.

He added that this 5G roll-out would be one of the biggest initiatives in GCI’s history and that the company will spend “tens of millions of dollars” and “increase our Anchorage wireless network by 10 times.” In addition to deploying macro cells, GCI employees are also working to deploy micro cells.

Ericsson President and CEO Börje Ekholm traveled to Alaska to be present at the announcement. He said, “We believe 5G will be the fastest scaling mobile technology ever.” Ericsson's latest Mobility Report predicts there will be 1.9 billion mobile 5G subscriptions globally by the end of 2024, up from the 1.5 billion subscriptions by 2024 that it had predicted in its November 2018 Mobility Report. 

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In regard to GCI, Ekholm said, “This marks our 22nd commercial agreement on 5G.” He added that the company has already participated in the launch of 12 commercial 5G networks. “We can help provide GCI service, but we also get the feedback on products for the future,” said Ekholm.

Duncan said GCI chose Anchorage for its first 5G network because it is Alaska’s biggest city and “gives us the biggest footprint.” But he anticipates that GCI will roll out 5G to “all the fiber-served areas of the state in the next few years." That would include Juneau and Fairbanks.

“We’re not stopping with the deployment of a 5G macro network,” said Duncan. “Later this year, we will be announcing the move to an all IP cable plant in Anchorage and other Alaska cities. Our teams are working to integrate GCI’s wireless network and our metro fiber/cable plant network to fully enable microcell, managed Wi-Fi, and other technologies.”