CBNL hoping to grow bespoke wireless equipment business for spectrum speculators

CBNL built custom equipment for the 31 GHz band. (CBNL)

CBNL, which sells equipment for fixed, backhaul and other wireless applications, has a new line of business that the company is hoping to expand: building custom wireless equipment for companies that own uncommon but potentially valuable spectrum bands.

As John Naylon, CTO and founder of CBNL explained, this bespoke equipment can give companies that own rare or atypical spectrum bands the ability to hold onto their spectrum licenses by meeting the FCC’s build-out requirements.

Such custom equipment is unnecessary for spectrum bands that a wide range of companies use, or that have been available for years. But for other spectrum bands, particularly millimeter wave spectrum bands above 20 GHz, equipment can be difficult or impossible to find if there isn’t much action among providers and vendors.

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CBNL is stepping in to this gap.

“That’s been a real success story for us,” CBNL’s Naylon said of the business, explaining that the company’s network equipment is designed in such a way that new spectrum bands can be plugged in based on customer demand. “We’ve always had a modular approach to engineering.”

Naylon said that CBNL over the years has built this kind of custom equipment for a handful of companies, including Straight Path, XO and others. He said demand for this kind of equipment is growing because the perceived value of millimeter wave spectrum has jumped in recent years as carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile look to deploy 5G services in those frequencies. Indeed, Verizon paid roughly $3.1 billion for Straight Path’s millimeter wave spectrum licenses in 2017 after a bidding war with AT&T, signaling the rise in value for those kinds of licenses.

“Suddenly the numbers have gotten bigger,” Naylon said of those valuations for millimeter wave spectrum bands.

Thus, companies that may have purchased millimeter wave spectrum licenses years ago for just a few thousand dollars may be scrambling to meet the FCC’s spectrum buildout requirements in order to hold onto those licenses and potentially sell them for a profit. That desire has sparked their need for custom equipment for their specific spectrum licenses.

Naylon said that CBNL has built bespoke equipment for the 39 GHz and the 31 GHz bands and expects to create additional custom equipment in the future.