U.S. Cellular expects revenues from commercial LTE fixed wireless services in 2018

U.S. Cellular coverage area (U.S. Cellular)
U.S. Cellular is the nation's fifth largest wireless operator and offers service across the country. (Image: U.S. Cellular)

U.S. Cellular said it expects to launch commercial LTE fixed wireless services sometime this year, and the company said that those offerings will contribute to its bottom line in 2018.

Specifically, U.S. Cellular CEO Kenneth Meyers said that the operator hopes to record a “small, single-digit increase in revenue this year,” mostly from growth in phone customers, accessory and add-on sales, and VoLTE roaming. “Throw in some fixed wireless and the impact of today’s somewhat more stable pricing environment, and we could see a return to growing revenues,” he said.

“In 2017, we trialed an LTE fixed wireless offering using 4G that functions well and is showing encouraging initial sales,” Meyers explained during the company’s recent quarterly conference call with analysts. “We plan further commercialization of this product in 2018.”

As noted by Telecompetitor, this isn’t the first time U.S. Cellular’s CEO has discussed the potential for fixed wireless services using LTE technology. “We’re very happy with what we’ve seen,” Meyers said of fixed wireless earlier this year, according to the publication. “What we’re targeting is ... outside the cable footprint. We’re meeting the unmet needs of consumers who don’t have reliable broadband today.”

U.S. Cellular last year conducted fixed LTE tests in remote areas of Kansas and Nebraska.

Importantly, Meyers said the operator has tested 5G technology using 15 and 28 GHz spectrum in both indoor and outdoor use cases, but said that “we aren’t waiting for 5G to meet the needs of our customers in our markets” for fixed services.

Indeed, U.S. Cellular in 2016 said it was working with Nokia to test a fixed 5G service in 28 GHz spectrum for fixed applications. Those tests used Nokia’s AirScale radio platform to stream six simultaneous 4K ultra high-definition videos. But, as Meyers explained last week, the carrier isn’t planning to use 5G for its fixed offerings, and will use LTE instead.

Interestingly, Meyers also said the operator is working on a 3.5 GHz trial.

RELATED: Editor’s Corner—Fixed wireless is a big deal. Here’s why

U.S. Cellular is one of a large and growing number of telecom operators eyeing the potential of fixed wireless services using a variety of spectrum bands and network technologies. For example, AT&T plans to use fixed wireless services to deliver services to more than 1.1 million rural locations by 2020 as part of its commitments to the FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II (CAF-II). Frontier and Windstream may do the same. And C Spire expects to use fixed wireless to eventually cover 200,000 consumers and businesses in Mississippi.

Rise Broadband is probably the country’s largest fixed wireless provider with around 200,000 customers in rural locations in a number of states across the country. That operator is also increasingly relying on LTE for its fixed wireless offerings.

Meantime, though, Verizon is moving forward with plans to launch a fixed wireless service using millimeter wave spectrum to 5 cities this year with an eventual goal of expanding it to around 30 million households.