Cambridge Broadband gets early start on 28, 39 GHz

Given all the tests and trials that Tier 1 U.S. operators are embarking upon with their big-name vendor partners, it might be easy to forget that some lesser-known vendors and service providers have been dallying in the 28 GHz space for quite a while.

One of those vendors is Cambridge Broadband Networks, or CBNL, which was established back in 2000 when 10 engineers from Cambridge University decided to develop what became the VectaStar platform for the point-to-multipoint (PMP) microwave market. Flash forward to today, and the company believes it has about an 18-month to two-year head start over some others when it comes to supplying product for the 28 GHz band -- and it's gearing up to start shipping 39 GHz gear later this year, according to Mark Ashford, VP North America at CBNL.

A few years ago, people still thought about those earlier entities – WinStar and Teligent, to name a couple – that had tried to make a business with LMDS spectrum but ultimately went under. Nowadays, those are distant memories and Tier 1 U.S. operators are looking at the higher spectrum bands to help round out their spectrum portfolios and test for 5G services.

Since launching in the 28 GHz LMDS band in late 2014, CBNL's VectaStar has been deployed in nine states, including California, Florida, Michigan, New York, Ohio, Rhode Island, Texas, Utah and Wisconsin. 

"There's plenty of 28 GHz activity" out there already in the U.S., said James Childs, senior director/strategy North America for CBNL.

While much of the focus on 28 GHz has been around fixed wireless, a consensus about using it for mobile services is yet to be reached. 

"When I look at 5G from a mobile framework, I certainly think that they (carriers) believe one day within the urban areas of the country that 28 GHz could be potentially used and even 39 GHz to actually provide access layer connectivity to handsets, to mobile handsets," Childs told FierceWirelessTech. "But in the short term, when they talk about 28 and 39 and reference 5G, they mean providing backhaul to small cells, potential fixed wireless use cases and that's where CBNL's sweet spot is. We're not today in the business of providing a competitive product to Ericsson and Nokia and Huawei, in the sense of eNodeB base stations that provide handset connectivity, but we're 100 percent leading the pack on a worldwide basis and certainly in the U.S. with active, fixed implementations at 28 and 39 GHz."

Last November, CBNL announced an agreement with StraightPath Communications to launch a combined 39 GHz product/spectrum solution. The agreement called for providing a seamless offering tied to StraightPath's nationwide 39 GHz spectrum assets, which cover each of the 175 licensed U.S. economic areas, with a new 39 GHz variant of CBNL's VectaStar licensed PMP platform.

StraightPath holds 828 spectrum licenses in the 39 GHz band, making it the largest single holder of 39 GHz licensed spectrum in the United States. It also holds 16 LMDS A licenses and 117 B licenses in the 28 GHz band. Last year, the company said it hoped to eventually show how its prototype would demonstrate the viability of using 39 GHz for 5G services.

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Straight Path aims to demonstrate viability of 5G at 39 GHz within 12-18 months