Windstream planning ‘meaningful’ fixed wireless deployment next year

Radwin fixed wireless (Radwin)
Windstream is currently using equipment from Radwin for its fixed wireless service. (Radwin)

Telecom operator Windstream has been using fixed wireless technologies to expand coverage in some of the rural areas of its footprint. The company said that effort will expand in a “meaningful” way next year.

“As we go into 2019, that is one of the areas that we're focused on innovating on, is being able to leverage fixed wireless in a more meaningful way, whether that's at the higher bandwidth levels, the unlicensed or even the CBRS,” Windstream CEO Tony Thomas said this week on the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of the event. “So lots of options there I think to really dramatically improve our speed offerings and competitiveness.

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Importantly, Thomas said that Windstream would look at a wide range of fixed wireless technologies including those operating in millimeter-wave spectrum bands, potentially offering speeds up to 1 Gbps.

Those comments are notable considering Windstream is one of the bidders registered to participate in the FCC’s upcoming auction of 24 GHz and 28 GHz millimeter-wave spectrum bands. Verizon, for its part, is using the 28 GHz band to offer its 5G Home-branded fixed wireless internet services in four cities, with average speeds of 300 Mbps and peak speeds of 1 Gbps.

“We'll be trialing technologies on probably both ends of the spectrum here in the fourth quarter and in 2019, in terms of how we can build up new capabilities including a more of a millimeter-wave, 1-Gig offering,” Thomas said, noting Windstream would also look at the 3.5 GHz CBRS band for potential fixed wireless service launches. “That I think is a pretty exciting capability we'll have in the marketplace here.”

Windstream isn’t a stranger to the fixed wireless game. The company in May disclosed that it’s deploying Radwin’s fixed wireless equipment in two states covering thousands of potential customers as part of its work in the FCC’s CAF-II program, which helps fund the build-out of telecommunications services in hard-to-reach rural locations.

Windstream is offering a handful of speeds over its fixed wireless network, with prices starting at $50 per month for 25 Mbps speeds, ranging up to $70 per month for 100 Mbps speeds. The service does not have a monthly usage cap.

Thomas boasted that Windstream’s fixed wireless ambitions would be added by its fiber network holdings.

Interestingly, Thomas also address the FCC’s recently completely CAF II auction that doled out $1.5 billion to around 100 different telecom companies across the country, in order to help fund the build-out of internet services into rural areas. Many of those auction winners—such as AMG Technology Investment Group’s NextLink—plan to use fixed wireless technologies to meet the FCC’s CAF II coverage requirements.

But that, Thomas said, might be difficult to do with the resources provided: “We went back and double-checked our fixed wireless topography and modeling and confirmed at least in the Windstream footprint, they [the CAF II auction winners] will have very difficult time meeting these location obligations, because these are still line of sight technologies, generally speaking. And you have geographic issues, hills, foliage can still be a concern,” he said.

Thomas continued: “You can have rain fade, if you're too far away. So even in states that are favorable to the technology, we think the WISP will struggle to meet these commitments. And of course, the challenge we have is, it's going to take a long time for us to see this unfold, because their initial deployments will of course be successful. It's only when you get into the later stages of deployment and the more challenged areas will we see the futility of their bidding.”