GCI partners with ClearSky to deploy residential femtocells in Alaska

Alaskan carrier General Communication Inc. (GCI) is partnering with ClearSky Technologies to roll out and manage residential femtocells for its customers in an effort to boost coverage. GCI is using ClearSky's Small Cell as a Service (SCaaS) platform and in October signed a multi-year contract with ClearSky to enhance coverage and capacity for its wireless users.

Tony Tagliareni, ClearSky's chief sales and marketing officer, said in an interview with FierceWireless that ClearSky purchased the femtocells, small cell gateway system and Radio Access Management Network system from Cisco that it is using in the deployment.

On top of that, ClearSky built what it calls a "Small Cell Service Center" for automated provisioning and integration to GCI's legacy OSS/BSS systems. The small cells themselves have to be provisioned in the network but also in the carrier's legacy billing systems, Tagliareni said, so ClearSky helps with that. The service center also lets GCI staff members configure and manage femtocells that are deployed, as well as look at key network performance metrics to see how the femtocells are working in the field.

GCI is in the process of deploying the femtocells, Tagliareni said, mainly to customers who have asked for help to improve indoor coverage. He said GCI initially purchased "somewhere around 1,500 access points" but that "there are obviously plans to do more."

The femtocells are needed in the rugged landscape of Alaska, Tagliareni noted. Residential and enterprise buildings built to withstand harsh Alaskan winters are often difficult to penetrate with cellular signals, and with only 12,000 miles of paved roads, Alaska's high mountains and low valleys make it tough to provide ubiquitous coverage.

"It's kind of a challenge to get coverage inside some of these homes that are in Alaska just because of the terrain and the way the homes are constructed," he said. "One of the things about our ecosystem, we have a full portfolio of femtocells that we can connect to our gateway" on behalf of the carrier.  

"Our strategy is to leverage small cell technology as a churn prevention tool by improving in-home and in-building coverage, and thereby increasing overall customer satisfaction," Dan Boyette, GCI's vice president of wireless, said in a statement. "As the only provider of SCaaS in the Americas, ClearSky allows us to accomplish those goals at a fraction of the cost and in half the time it would take to address the issues internally."

It's unclear how much the femtocells cost, and Boyette could not be reached for comment at deadline.

Tagliareni said GCI is also exploring and testing enterprise and outdoor femtocells that ClearSky offers, but there is no firm deployment date for those.

For more:
- see this release

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