Towerstream deploying NLOS backhaul, eyeing 3.5 GHz band

Towerstream's top network executive said the carrier recently finished testing non-line-of-sight (NLOS) backhaul technology and has begun deploying the offering. He also said that the company is interested in using the 3.5 GHz band that the FCC recently voted to free up for unlicensed operations.

"We're past trial stage and we're entering into deployment of that [NLOS] technology," Arthur Giftakis, Towerstream's SVP of engineering and operations, told FierceWirelessTech during a wide-ranging discussion about the company's network and strategy. Giftakis explained that NLOS backhaul will help the company more easily deploy Wi-Fi hotspots and other services into difficult-to-reach locations since the company won't have to find a direct line of sight between the access point and the backhaul location.

However, Giftakis declined to provide details on Towerstream's NLOS backhaul deployments, including which vendors the company is using for the technology. A wide range of vendors have put their names into the NLOS backhaul arena, including major players like Cisco and smaller vendors like Radwin.

Indeed, Fastback Networks recently announced it worked with managed services firm Perseus to deploy its Intelligent Backhaul Radio (IBR) to support a top financial services firm in lower Manhattan. The effort extends fiber-based services via wireless connectivity and requires a NLOS connection.

Giftakis provided other insights into Towerstream's operations, including the company's interest in the newly freed 3.5 GHz band. The FCC earlier this year voted to adopt new spectrum sharing tools and policies to make 150 MHz of spectrum available for mobile broadband and other commercial uses. The radio waves span 3550 MHz to 3700 MHz and were previously locked up by the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD).

"That's going to be a nice band," Giftakis said.

Interestingly, Giftakis said that Towerstream is already working in the so-called "E Band" that includes portions stretching from 60 GHz to 80 GHz. "We've been using E Band for a  couple of years now," he noted, explaining that Towerstream has relied on 80 GHz spectrum for backhaul to its Wi-Fi hotspots as well as some of its fixed wireless services. "It's cost effective," Giftakis said of the E Band, adding that "you can carry a lot of bandwidth."

Finally, Giftakis said that Towerstream is rapidly moving from point-to-point microwave solutions to multipoint systems. "There's a whole wave of technology coming out right now where it will be high-capacity multipoint wireless systems," Giftakis said. "We've always been a proponent of multipoint technology."

Specifically, Giftakis said Towerstream can now transmit 50-100 Mbps on its multipoint systems, a figure he expects to grow to 200-300 Mbps in the next 12-18 months.

Towerstream offers WiMAX-based fixed wireless service in around a dozen markets including New York City, Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Seattle, Miami and elsewhere. The company also deploys Wi-Fi hotspots, small cells, distributed antenna systems (DAS) and other technologies through its Hetnets Tower Corp. subsidiary.

Importantly, Towerstream rents its Wi-Fi hotspots to Time Warner Cable, and is one of the vendors Verizon Wireless is using to deploy small cells into urban locations to densify its cellular network.

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