The CCA is holding its Annual Convention, virtually, on Wednesday, October 21, and it’s got a lot of things to talk about in this busy year for wireless operators.
CCA essentially blended its Mobile Carrier’s Show, which is usually held in the spring, with its Annual Convention, held in the fall, since the Covid pandemic caused the spring event to be cancelled this year. CCA President and CEO Steven Berry said the newly designed virtual show, which is free, will deliver the top topics of interest to its audience.
Some of those big topics include open RAN, Huawei equipment in networks, and CBRS spectrum.
The CCA has gained an impressive list of new members in 2020, many of them related to the open RAN movement. “We have added quite a few open RAN vendors over the last several months because they see the potential for open RAN services to leapfrog into 5G technology,” said Berry.
Those new members include Mavenir, Parallel Wireless, Airspan, Rakuten, Altiostar, Fujitsu, WWT, SpaceX and OneWeb. Even Facebook recently joined because of its work with the Telecom Infra Project (TIP), which is trying to bring broadband to unserved parts of the world.
“These are all companies that are hoping to bid on projects of T-Mobile, Dish, AT&T and Verizon,” said Berry. “But for the smaller carriers it’s also encouraging.”
Berry said a lot of CCA members bought CBRS priority access licenses (PALs) for counties in their footprint, and the spectrum will be a topic of discussion at this week’s conference. “We did quite well at a membership level on CBRS,” he said. “It will loom large in their game plan.”
CCA members that bought PALs included Windstream, Frontier, Shentel, Bluegrass Cellular, and Inland Cellular, to name a few. Many of these operators will use their CBRS spectrum to roll out fixed wireless access (FWA)
“Fixed wireless access from a stationary fixed facility is a great way to serve more remote communities,” said Berry. “They’re moving fast to FWA because CBRS allows them that capacity.” He added that there is already CBRS equipment ready to go, including antennas and switches.
A good example of a CCA member that’s moving on FWA is Shentel, which recently announced a new FWA service called Beam Internet. It will initially leverage antenna attachments on existing macro towers, and it will use its 2.5 GHz spectrum in portions of Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. However, Shentel recently won a total of 262 PALs in 74 counties, and it’s assessing its business plan to use that CBRS spectrum for FWA in the rest of its footprint.
The CCA is also participating in discussions around the 3.45-3.55 GHz band, which the FCC is considering putting up for auction. Berry said the trade group wants “appropriate-sized licenses that allows multiple carriers to bid,” and it’s also participating in the debate about power levels. “It could be a very unique 100 MHz slice of spectrum that could tie CBRS utilization to a more robust C-Band deployment,” he said. “But you have to plan for it.”
Huawei is sponsoring a session at this week’s CCA event, which it has entitled “5G: Adding New Value Together.” The abstract for the session says, “This seminar will focus on how 5G will unleash the economic and social value in the future, the benefits for consumers, and how we can achieve 5G networks together.”
That’s all very interesting, considering that there’s strong bi-partisan support in the U.S. congress to banish Huawei from all American networks.
Berry said that “supply chain issues will be prevalent” in discussions at the CCA show. The trade group is following Huawei- and ZTE-related legislation closely. Items addressing the replacement of Huawei equipment in networks were included in three house bills and two senate bills related to Covid-19 relief packages. But no money has actually been allocated, yet.
Rather than referring to the Huawei equipment issue as “rip-and-replace,” Berry prefers to call it “replace-and-rip” because obviously, customers in rural areas couldn’t go without connectivity while equipment was being switched out.
Here’s a scary tidbit. Berry said that there’s been a lot of focus on Huawei equipment in wireless networks, but in fact, there’s also a lot of Huawei equipment in wired networks.
“The FCC pointed out there’s numerous other networks that have Huawei equipment in them that was previously unknown,” he said. “Wireless operators had to report Huawei and ZTE equipment in their networks because many of them got Universal Service Funds. What has not been done is fully understanding the wireline side. That was only a voluntary request.”
He said the FCC indicates that up to 55-60 wired networks have Huawei equipment in them.
Aside from potential funding to replace Huawei equipment, U.S. operators are keeping a watch on the 5G Fund for Rural America, which would provide $9 billion over 10 years.
“The 5G Fund is critical to all our members,” said Berry. “We’re very pleased the FCC is going to get maps reliable before we start deploying our resources because now you have opportunity to continue legacy funding while we figure out where we do and do not have broadband coverage.”
The FCC has indicated it may take about 18 months to create a reliable broadband coverage map. Berry said, “We believe it won’t delay the auction for the 5G Fund.”