Hawaii’s Mobi sets sail with WG2, Federated Wireless

Hawaiian service provider Mobi recently announced two big moves: It’s hooking up with Working Group Two (WG2) and Amazon Web Services (AWS) to expand service in the continental U.S., and it’s partnering with Federated Wireless to use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum in Hawaii.

In the mainland U.S. MVNO deal, Mobi is set to leverage “the largest 5G network in the U.S.,” which equates to T-Mobile, although the press release doesn’t say that explicitly. A pilot solution went live on Tuesday.

Mobi is using WG2 for a 4G/5G/IMS mobile core network deployed on infrastructure from AWS with the intention of disrupting the MVNO and 5G markets, according to the release. Teaming with WG2 and AWS gives Mobi the ability to realize significant time-to-market advantages with new services.

“It’s exciting for us,” said Mobi CEO Justen Burdette, who’s based on Honolulu. Tapping into the modern mobile core entirely in the cloud gives it the ability to do a lot of the things they’ve been wanting to do but struggled with, he said. For example, it will be a lot easier to fully embrace eSIM.

WG2 started out as a program within Telenor to build a mobile core entirely within the cloud. It’s branched out and been involved in deals with CK Hutchison in multiple countries, as well as Telenor in Sweden and eRate in Norway. WG2 also delivers private networks in Japan with Mitsui Knowledge Industry Co.

Mobi was established back in 2005 as Mobi PCS and was created by the same M/C Partners venture capital firm that backed Metro PCS. They shared the same purple logos and the same vendors. They continued on mostly parallel paths until T-Mobile acquired Metro PCS in 2013. In 2015, Mobi PCS sold most of its spectrum to Verizon and leased back access to it.

Over the last seven or so years, it’s been operating mostly as a “light” MVNO, Burdette said. That meant it did not have its own core and had to adhere to its host network provider’s business rules.

“The great thing now is we have the WG2 core that allows us to do things like build out coverage here in Hawaii where there isn’t coverage today or where coverage isn’t great,” he said.

Mobi’s not a publicly traded company and doesn’t need to disclose subscriber figures, but the last time Mobi did so, it was in the range of 55,000. The number of stores selling Mobi fluctuates but currently it’s a total of 14, and they’re not all full-service stores.

CBRS ambitions

The other big initiative Mobi’s involved in has to do with CBRS. Federated Wireless will supply its Spectrum Access System (SAS) services and Environmental Sensing Capability (ESC) network. Federated built its ESC network in the U.S. along the coastlines, where the network is necessary to prioritize the use of spectrum for Navy ships. The network for Hawaii is expected to be completed this year. 

Mobi bought CBRS Priority Access Licenses (PALs) for two counties where it especially wanted spectrum to support fixed wireless access (FWA) services, according to Burdette. It can also use unlicensed General Authorized Access (GAA) CBRS.

The FCC excluded Hawaii and Alaska from the C-band 3.7 GHz auction, and it’s fair to say that 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum is in high demand in the markets where C-band licenses were not auctioned, according to Jennifer McCarthy, VP of Legal Advocacy at Federated Wireless.

Earlier this month, the FCC granted approval of Federated Wireless’ plans to deploy an ESC network for CBRS in Alaska.  

Federated built its stateside ESC network with triple redundancy so that it could withstand harsh weather like hurricanes. Federated’s ESC network is holding up well despite the heavy rains that have been pummeling the West Coast, according to McCarthy.