It’s still relatively early in the new year, and some would say it’s still early for 5G, but ExteNet Systems, a private developer of distributed networks in the U.S., is as busy as ever.
“It’s early, but it’s not like we’re sitting and waiting on it. It’s happening right now. The race is on,” said Tormod Larsen, vice president and chief technology officer at ExteNet. “We’re really busy with a lot of 5G work right now.”
One might say ExteNet is in the thick of it—it works with all four of the big U.S. wireless carriers as well as smaller WISPs scattered across the country. It’s talking about participating in some very large small cell deployments—as in the thousands and thousands.
Larsen acknowledged that generally speaking, all of the carriers know densification is critical and ExteNet is part of their plans, but how each of them proceeds is very different, as each carrier is trying to position themselves as first in some fashion for 5G.
ExteNet owns and operates multi-carrier, often referred to as neutral-host, and multi-technology distributed networks to ensure multiple wireless service providers can provide services in the most effective and efficient manner. Naturally, it’s generally a friend for local jurisdictions that would rather the operators co-locate on infrastructure, especially as 5G demands so many more small cells be sited in their cities and counties.
The partial government shutdown delayed work in the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) sector, which has been waiting on final FCC signoffs before bona fide commercialization kicks in, but ExteNet already has been involved in a lot of pre-CBRS networks, Larsen told FierceWirelessTech. For about the last year and half, the company has been working with WISPs to deploy equipment that is CBRS-ready. Once the FCC gives the final OK, they can support full-on CBRS services.
Last fall, ExteNet announced a field trial with a FCC Part 96-ready CBRS LTE fixed wireless network with Inland Cellular, a wireless communications company serving southeastern Washington and north central Idaho. ExteNet’s virtualized LTE Evolved Packet Core solution, bundled with Nokia’s Radio Access Network equipment, has served as the foundation for Inland’s 4G LTE service throughout its serving area since 2016.
In a sense, ExteNet is already involved in Massive MIMO types of configurations, where the goal is to have multiple paths to the customers’ devices. Massive MIMO is often described as a bridge to 5G.
“Our density of node locations out there are really providing spatial massive MIMO,” Larsen explained. To give a sense of the densification that’s happening: In San Francisco, there are nearly 3,000 nodes, and in the densest areas of the city, ExteNet has over 100 nodes per square mile. That compares to an area like Manhattan, where it’s more like 30 or 40 on a per carrier basis. Some of the analysis around 5G calls for between 170 and 200 small cells per square mile.
For the most part, ExteNet is not directly involved in the standards development process for O-RAN, but it is observing it and evaluating the implications, which appear to be positive for accelerating deployments on behalf of the carriers.
“We feel we’re in a good spot,” he said.