Fixed wireless: It’s not just for urban densification

There are still rural areas in the U.S. that don't have internet connections. (Questex)

Fixed wireless has garnered a lot of attention lately because both Verizon and AT&T are deploying the technology as a first step in their 5G networks. Sue Marek takes a deep dive into this in today’s column “Will fixed 5G be a broadband savior for wireless operators?” Not only does fixed wireless provide a first step in the evolution to 5G, but the technology can also be used for urban densification. And carriers can use it to “overbuild” in their competitor’s territory as well. For instance, Verizon has a lot of fiber in New York City, but with fixed 5G and its higher speeds, AT&T could poach some of Verizon’s broadband customers. And the telecom operators could also use fixed 5G wireless to lure residential broadband customers away from cable competitors such as Comcast.

But there’s more. Fixed wireless could also bring broadband to rural areas that have never had any internet service.

Last week C Spire, the nation’s sixth-largest wireless operator, announced it was partnering with Airspan Networks, Microsoft, Nokia and Siklu to come up with innovative ways to bring broadband to more rural areas. The consortium plans to develop new coordinated models with regional fixed and wireless broadband providers, utilities and other agencies to deliver broadband to rural communities.

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RELATED: C Spire forms consortium to bridge digital gap in rural areas

According to a 2018 report from the Federal Communications Commission, over 19.4 million rural Americans still lacked basic broadband at the end of 2017. And in states like Mississippi and Alabama, where C Spire provides wireless communications, nearly a third of rural residents have no access to basic broadband. C Spire Chief Innovation Officer Craig Sparks said the consortium will use the real-world test beds of Mississippi and Alabama to conduct studies over an 18-month period. 

Fixed Wireless

C Spire lays fiber to the home when it makes sense from a business perspective. But Sparks said fixed wireless offers an alternative “when you’re out at the edge of the business case for fiber.” And the states of Mississippi and Alabama make good test beds for fixed wireless because they are populated with many small communities that are highly dispersed. “When you get in the middle of a town of 200, it looks like a sparse suburban edge,” said Sparks.

One of the companies participating in the consortium is Airspan, which will bring its fixed wireless expertise through its Mimosa portfolio. Airspan bought Mimosa in November 2018.

Mimosa’s fixed access solutions are engineered for both point-to-point and point-to-multipoint deployments. Prior to joining Airspan, Mimosa announced its Spectrum Reuse Synchronization technology, which allows a single access point to efficiently reuse channels rather than wasting spectrum to avoid interference.

Damiano Coletti, VP of strategy and marketing at Airspan, said, “We acquired Mimosa because they are cutting edge for point-to-point and point-to-multipoint. They have flexibility in terms of getting over traditional barriers to rolling out wireless broadband.”

John Colvin, SVP of sales for Mimosa, said wireless towers often provide a good location for fixed wireless equipment. The fixed wireless equipment can be installed at the base of the tower. “It’s a convenient place with height, power and access to backhaul connectivity,” said Colvin.

C Spire’s Sparks said the problem of getting broadband connectivity to rural areas will have to be solved by a combination of wireless technologies, but fixed wireless is definitely an important tool in the toolbox.

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