Comcast Business will deploy a 4G/5G private wireless network at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia during the first quarter of 2022. It will use Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) technology for the deployment and take advantage of Comcast’s licensed Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum.
Bob Victor, SVP of customer solutions at Comcast Business, told Fierce this will be the company’s first foray into deploying a private wireless network at scale. But Comcast is in discussions with other business customers who are looking for a private wireless network.
“This is less about setting up a showcase network and more about the launch of our 5G private networking business,” said Victor. “We have a big managed Wi-Fi business. This is an extension of that.”
Comcast’s managed Wi-Fi includes technology from Deep Blue Communications, a company Comcast purchased in May 2019. Deep Blue brought its know-how in providing commercial, managed Wi-Fi at scale.
Brian Epstein, CEO of DeepBlue, leads a team at Comcast that lights up very large facilities with Wi-Fi. That same team is going to expand its scope to include private wireless.
Although Comcast is using Nokia’s DAC for the Wells Fargo implementation, the arrangement is not exclusive. Victor said Comcast is in conversation with other vendors and will likely deploy other manufacturers’ equipment over time.
Nokia’s DAC is an end-to-end private wireless networking and edge computing platform that includes radios, baseband stations and software.
Comcast was among the top purchasers of CBRS spectrum when it was auctioned in 2020, spending about $458 million for Priority Access Licenses (PALs).
At the Wells Fargo Center Comcast will use both its PALs spectrum as well as General Authorized Access (GAA) unlicensed spectrum. “In Wells Fargo we’re doing both, unlicensed and licensed,” said Victor. “We purchased a lot of CBRS spectrum mostly in our footprint. But we’re also using GAA for capacity management. It’s available, and no one else is using it. It looks exactly the same.”
People’s devices won’t immediately have the ability to access the CBRS network in the Wells Fargo Center. So arena managers are considering several different types of applications to use the new private wireless network. Those may include immersive video experiences, digital signage throughout the venue and real-time information about parking flow.
Victor said for example the venue has a big jumbotron hanging from the center ceiling. Wells Fargo managers are considering using Google Pixel phones to shoot high-end video for that jumbotron. They’re also thinking about setting up cameras in the tunnel to film Flyers hockey players as they come and go.
Thinking beyond its first implementation at the arena, Comcast Business will target a variety of industry verticals with private wireless — from factories to warehouse facilities to transportation centers.
Comcast wants to “provide a complete indoor wireless solution,” and it will tap a variety of technologies such as its own wired network, Wi-Fi, private wireless, and LoRa IoT networks. “We don’t have a technological dog in the hunt,” Victor said. “We want to use the best spectrum and equipment.”
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