ExteNet and Nokia have been working to help the wireless internet service provider (WISP) Cal.net build a fixed wireless access (FWA) network in northern California since 2017. They’ve recently transitioned the project from legacy WiMAX to LTE technology, using CBRS spectrum. It will still take about four more years to complete most of the project, which is expected to include from 2,000 to 3,000 sites and serve about 19,000 rural homes.
Jason Osborne, VP of strategic solutions for ExteNet, said that the partners have deployed a few hundred sites so far. Earlier this year, they ran software upgrades to convert those sites to LTE. Nokia is providing microwave radios for backhaul, IP routers and its AirScale RAN solution.
For its part, ExteNet brings its evolved packet core (EPC) and software that ties it all together in one Infrastructure-as-a-Service (Iaas) package.
The FWA network will span the area around Shingle Springs, California, in a large geographic swath from the Sierra Nevada foothills to the Pacific coast. Subscribers will get internet speeds of up to 100 Mbps downlink and 20 Mbps uplink.
For fixed wireless access, Osborne said, “The market has historically used WiMAX. That’s a big leap in capability from WiMAX to LTE. That’s where ExteNet came in with a package to be able to simplify and deploy LTE.”
He said previous technology that was available for FWA to WISPs such as Cal.net was more “enterprise grade” quality. “This is the first time LTE as a carrier-grade technology is offered more to the masses,” said Osborne. “Nokia is leading the way around CBRS and LTE and a path to 5G and even perhaps mobility.”
Even though the Cal.net project first began with WiMAX technology, Nokia’s equipment was forward-compatible with LTE. Cal.net was using the legacy 3.65 MHz unlicensed spectrum band for its FWA network, and it wanted to make sure it didn’t have to replace any of its equipment when the new FCC rules for CBRS spectrum came into effect.
Amit Patel, a sales leader with Nokia, said Cal.net is leading the charge among many WISPS that must make the shift to newer CBRS equipment. “We have multiple radio products that support CBRS,” said Patel. He said the FCC has given WISPs until October 2020 to migrate from their legacy equipment.
Cal.net is tapping Connect America Fund (CAF) II for its FWA deployment. “Many of these awardees are focused on fixed wireless for their target areas,” said Patel. He said many WISPs are also eyeing the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) for future FWA projects.
Although RDOF will have a big focus on fiber-to-the-home, it will still potentially provide more money for FWA than CAF II provided. “Fixed wireless access is something all operators are interested in: wireless internet service providers, cable operators, traditional ILECs. It round outs where fiber-to-the-home doesn’t make sense,” said Patel.