It’s easy to forget that in 2020 Cox Communications spent $212 million on Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The company hasn’t said much about its CBRS spectrum since then.
However, it turns out Cox has a “new growth” group that’s been working on private wireless for the past couple of years. And this week, the Atlanta-based cable company announced that it’s working with several vendors to deliver Cox Private Networks.
Cox is already doing some work with the City of Las Vegas and the City of Mesa, Arizona, on some private network projects.
Brett Lasher, GM of Cox Private Networks, said his group sits “outside the core Cox,” which allows it to be super nimble. The group was launched around the time of the CBRS auction. It’s been working on pilots and figuring out its commercialization strategy.
In its announcement this week, Cox called out its vendors Future Technologies and Intel.
Future Technologies is a small systems integrator that’s been helping companies set up private wireless networks for years. Lasher noted that private wireless is not new, it’s “just more popular now with CBRS.”
And Intel, of course, makes chips. Lasher said, “Intel, because of their chip and compute business, has such a broad purview across every vertical, having knowledge of the preferred use cases in each vertical.” He added that Intel’s edge compute expertise is important because “there’s a huge interconnection between edge compute and private networks.”
For its part, Cox does the network design and procurement, it provides the fiber connectivity for backhaul, and it also offers its Cox Edge. For the RAN and core elements of private wireless it works with its preferred vendors such as Ericsson, Nokia and Celona. It’s also about to start working with Airspan and Cambium. Its goal is to have a defined set of equipment providers to match the each customer’s needs.
Cox’s journey into private wireless began with CBRS spectrum, but it's expanded from there. Lasher said, “In the early days we went around with the CBRS hammer looking for the nail.” But as it piloted and tested some deployments, the group realized “CBRS isn’t the be-all, end-all.” It’s since taken a much broader approach to spectrum and will use not only mid-band CBRS, but also low-band or high-band spectrum based on what makes the most sense for any particular deployment. He mentioned that sometimes there are opportunities to use licensed 2.5 GHz spectrum, which is often owned by school districts around the country.
Las Vegas is one of Cox Communications’ major markets, falling within its cable broadband footprint. Unfortunately for Cox, the City of Las Vegas chose NTT to build its municipal private wireless network.
Lasher said, “Las Vegas is one of our most important markets. We have a super strong presence there and have been working with the city for a very long time.”
He acknowledged that NTT is a competitor to Cox.
Cox is doing some smaller private wireless work for the city. In Baker Park, Cox built a managed private network that uses millimeter wave spectrum to transport high resolution data for insights on park usage such as vehicle traffic. And Cox is now installing an additional private network that covers eight city blocks in Downtown Las Vegas' Fremont District, which will provide real-time insights on security, parking, noise levels, air quality and pedestrian traffic.
Cox has also built a CBRS private wireless network for Whitman Elementary in Mesa, Arizona, and it is currently testing devices on that network. It can extend the network to connect low-income students at their homes in the surrounding area.
Interestingly, Cox fought a municipal network in Tucson, Arizona, which that city built during the early days of the pandemic in order to provide connectivity for students who didn’t have internet at home.
Lasher said his group will work with the Cox Business sales team to find new private wireless opportunities all across the country, not just in Cox’s footprint.
He said there’s a lot of “latent demand” in the market among the types of customers that Cox Business already serves such as mixed-use real estate, hospitality, large venues, retail and manufacturing.
Private wireless isn’t the only area where Cox is getting into mobile. In January it formally announced its Cox Mobile MVNO offering. And the company says it will have some news at MWC Barcelona next week, too.