CenturyLink still on the fence about fixed wireless

Fixed wireless report from Arris and CableLabs (Arris and CableLabs)
Fixed wireless services often rely on a central tower that broadcasts an internet connection to receivers installed on customers' homes or offices. (Arris and CableLabs)

CenturyLink executives said that the company is still testing fixed wireless technologies for its network build-outs in rural locations, but that so far CenturyLink is mainly using fiber to reach those customers.

“We've done some trials with fixed wireless and we'll continue to look at other technologies to make sure that we're evaluating the best way to do it,” CenturyLink’s Jeffrey Storey said during the company’s quarterly conference call with analysts, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks.

CenturyLink is among several major telecom operators that are participating in the FCC’s CAF-II program, which provides government money to help fund the build-out of telecommunications services in hard-to-reach rural locations. A number of operators like AT&T and Windstream are using fixed-wireless technologies to install connections in those rural locations because it’s often cheaper to deploy a wireless network than a wired network.

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Indeed, AT&T plans to use fixed wireless to deliver services to more than 1.1 million rural locations by 2020 as part of its commitments to the FCC's CAF-II program. And Windstream recently offered details about its own fixed-wireless deployments in Oklahoma and Iowa, and its plans to expand fixed wireless into locations in Missouri, Nebraska and elsewhere.

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CenturyLink has also made steps toward fixed wireless. For example, last year the company sought FCC approval to conduct trials of fixed wireless services in the 3.4-3.7 GHz spectrum band.

But so far, CenturyLink executives said the company is using fiber for the FCC’s CAF-II program. However, CenturyLink’s Storey noted that “it's very upgradable if we decide later to do more fixed wireless.”

And CenturyLink’s Glen Post offered additional details on the company’s CAF-II rural deployment efforts.

“We spent about half that funding to-date, maybe the lower half of the CAF II funding. As Sunit [Patel, another CentuyLink executive] pointed out, it's all been wireline to-date. We are looking at some potential wireless technologies that can be very beneficial in rural America,” Post said. “But it's still in the leading edge that we certainly like to be able to find some of those solutions that could enable us to serve these customers at a lower cost. And we think that will happen. We, hopefully, can get it in time to allocate some of this CAF funding to those wireless technologies. But we are working on those as we speak.”