Midco: C-band needed for fixed 5G in rural areas

Minnesota farm
Midco says it understands the difficulties associated with serving rural areas. (Pixabay)

Midco, which wants to make sure rural operators get a fighting chance at using C-band spectrum, told the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) that its tests confirm C-band spectrum operates much like the Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band.

That’s pretty much to be expected—the C-band is at 3.7-4.2 GHz and the CBRS band is 3.5 GHz—but Midco is sharing details of its tests as part of an ex parte (PDF) arguing for shared access to the C-band, so that operators like itself can reach rural areas with faster fixed 5G-capable technology.

The Midwestern service provider said it believes that any portion of the C-band that can be cleared should be reallocated for terrestrial uses, including fixed wireless, but it’s concerned that the spectrum may not be made available to serve rural America. The C-band is currently the subject of numerous deliberations in Washington, D.C., as the FCC is under pressure to make decisions about how the band will be reallocated from satellite to terrestrial 5G use.

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Midco received an experimental license from the FCC to conduct C-band tests; it wanted to know, first hand, whether it could use the C-band for fixed wireless service. It used a single Telrad E-NodeB capable of running in the lower 100 MHz of the C-band, or 3700-3800 MHz. Midco installed the E-NodeB on a tower outside of Mitchell, South Dakota, at 200 feet and pointed the radio to the northeast.

Its engineers programmed the E-NodeB to run at the same power levels as those used in the 3.5 GHz band. The propagation for this single sector covered about 38 square miles. Midco verified that it could achieve speeds of at least 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload. Midco said it's also testing Category 12 and above CPEs that are capable of speeds nearing 200/40 Mbps and could be programmed to provide such speeds using C-band spectrum.

RELATED: Midco sets sights on offering 100/20 Mbps speeds using 3.5 GHz band

“Near-future technological advances include carrier aggregation on the tower base station between the CBRS or C-Band and the 5 GHz bands, allowing for even faster speeds and/or larger coverage areas from a single sector,” Midco told the commission. “Other advances will also include carrier aggregation on the uplink from the CPE to the tower, allowing for faster upload speeds and/or more customers to be added to a single sector.”

All of this confirms that fixed 5G can provide ever-faster speeds and options for rural Americans, but the technology needs more spectrum to perform the carrier aggregation functions required for a fixed 5G technology. “The C-Band is key spectrum for Midco to use in providing fixed 5G service to our most rural, remote customers,” the company said.

RELATED: Midco wraps up CBRS testing with Telrad, Federated Wireless

Midco supports the Wireless Internet Service Provider Association (WISPA) position that the C-band can be used as shared spectrum, and points to a study conducted by Professor Jeff Reed at Virginia Tech, which notes that earth stations for satellites are less prevalent in rural areas and widely dispersed. That report also showed that earth stations can be coordinated and protected within a geographic exclusion zone of less than 10 kilometers.

Midco said it’s especially concerned about a private C-band auction given that too much of the discussion around the band focuses on small cell, mobile 5G. Small cell technology requires a network of vertical assets every few hundred or thousand feet, whereas Midco’s fixed wireless network can serve remote areas where a home or two might exist every square mile. “An infrastructure-heavy small cell deployment will not serve our most rural areas, outside of an event center or populated downtown center,” the service provider said.

The FCC is expected to form some decisions on C-band before the end of the year. Midco said it hopes that in crafting its rules, the commission will consider the needs of rural Americans and the reality that current fixed wireless and the near-future fixed 5G technology could close the digital divide if service providers have access to more spectrum.

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