Common Networks, a Silicon Valley startup founded by former executives from payment company Square, announced the next stage in its fixed wireless broadband strategy with the launch of a symmetric 300 Mbps service for $49 per month. Common Networks is roughly three and a half years old. It raised $25 million in a Series B round of funding led by General Catalyst in August 2018. The company said its fixed wireless broadband is made possible through the use of proprietary software built on open 5G technology, millimeter wave (mmWave) radio and its own software stack.
The company currently covers 100,000 people in the Bay Area with its 802.11ac/ad wireless network running in the unlicensed 5GHz and 60GHz bands. But it will soon extend that by a further 25,000 residents in San Leandro. The company’s aim is to provide fast broadband using wireless technology in dense urban areas, relying on homes in a single community as distributed infrastructure. It does not report customer numbers as yet, but in February 2019 it disclosed it had “well over 1,000” customers.
Also in February, Common Networks flagged plans to collaborate with Facebook on the deployment of Terragraph hardware and technology to enable faster speeds in the home.
According to CEO Zach Brock, “Common’s graph-based network relays wireless signals from rooftop to rooftop. Every new customer expands the network and makes it a little bit stronger for the whole neighborhood. Much of our business to-date has grown by word of mouth in these communities.”
Brock noted that the use of unlicensed spectrum allows the company to build networks faster and with lower costs. “Because it’s open to anyone, there’s a potential for interference from other devices using the same spectrum. We’ve developed proprietary software to solve this challenge and deliver fast and reliable connection within this spectrum,” he said.
Facebook established Terragraph mmWave technology to meet demand for high-speed Internet access in urban and suburban areas, and claims it is able to deliver “fiber-like speeds” at a fraction of the cost of deploying new fiber infrastructure. Broadly, it uses street-level mmWave radios and makes use of existing street furniture to create a wireless distribution network for last-mile fixed access. It claims to achieve average peak user throughput speeds of 1Gbps. Partners include Nokia, while Deutsche Telekom and its subsidiary Magyar Telekom have also carried out trials of the technology in Hungary.
Grace Chen, CPO of Common Networks, said Terragraph, which uses the open 60GHz millimeter-wave frequency, “happens to dovetail with what we believe is the way of the future for delivering Internet services.”
Brock added that the company takes the base Terragraph technology, builds all the tools to design, build, operate and manage these networks, and then provides the service side for customers.
“While we have partnered with Facebook’s Terragraph, Common is not dependent on this technology. We’re excited about the work the Facebook team has done toward the overall advancement of the 60GHz ecosystem. We are employing a unique combination of millimeter-wave tech (including Terragraph) and open 5G to pave the way in the frontier networking space,” Brock said.
The first network was established in Alameda, which Chen said “had pretty bad internet service,” and services have since been extended to Santa Clara, San Jose, Sunnyvale, and San Leandro, with Oakland the next target.
“In addition to expanding in our current markets, we’re absolutely planning to launch in new geographies,” said Brock. “Right now, we are focused primarily on servicing suburban areas, where customers often have few choices for high-speed internet service … We have some major initiatives and partnerships in the pipeline as well that we will announce in the coming months.”
As well as the 300 Mbps option, customers can also choose a Basic 20 Mbps plan for $34 a month, or a Faster 80 Mbps plan for $39 a month. Common Networks also installs the external wireless antenna and cabling and the internal box, wireless access point and Wi-Fi network.