Maine’s Redzone Wireless flipped the switch on its “5Gx” fixed wireless network in 10 rural and suburban markets across the state in what appears to be the nation’s first launch of a 5G-branded service.
The network combines both licensed LTE and unlicensed wireless broadband technologies on a single tower, according to Redzone, integrating them with a proprietary operational support system. Redzone claims the strategy maximizes bandwidth availability on each site, enabling it to serve more customers from each site at faster speeds than LTE alone can deliver.
The company said 5Gx—which isn’t a technological standard but is a company brand—has achieved maximum speeds in tests of up to 450 Mbps, operating within a frequency range of 5.1 GHz to 5.8 GHz.
“Redzone’s 5Gx significantly increases fixed wireless broadband performance, while substantially reducing network development time and deployment costs,” company President Jim McKenna said in a press release. “Redzone is leading the convergence of licensed and unlicensed spectrum to deliver on the promise of affordable next-generation broadband access for underserved areas of the country.”
The new network was rolled out in less than six months, according to the service provider, and covers 50,000 households in 10 markets including Portland, Bangor, Augusta and Sanford. Redzone’s homepage offers service on the new network for $79 a month, with the first month free and a $99 activation charge.
The company clearly hopes to gain some marketing momentum by using the term “5G,” but no clear definition of 5G exists because standards for next-generation networks have not yet been finalized. Several years ago, carriers caused some similar confusion by co-opting the term “4G” for everything from HSPA+ to WiMAX. Specifically, both AT&T and T-Mobile branded their HSPA networks as 4G, while Sprint called its WiMAX network 4G. Today, LTE network technology is widely considered to be 4G.
But carriers continue to offer their own branding spin on network technologies. For example, Verizon referred to the combination of its 700 MHz and AWS spectrum as XLTE, while T-Mobile calls its 700 MHz LTE "extended range."
Regardless, Redzone aims to use its network to help close the so-called digital divide that occurs when broadband access is limited or nonexistent for low-income and rural consumers. And the company is clearly looking to expand beyond its home state.
"Redzone is leading the market in the delivery of fixed wireless broadband technology for both residential & commercial applications, and our new integrated technology platform clearly has potential applications and scalability well beyond Maine," said Redzone Vice President Michael Forcillo in the press release. "Since Redzone's launch in 2015, we have received over 68,000 service inquiries, and the activation of our new 5Gx network is critical to keeping pace with the increasing consumer demand for broadband we see in Maine on a daily basis.”
Other carriers are likely to enter the 5G marketing battle this year. For example, Verizon released preliminary standards last year for a fixed version of 5G through its 5G Technical Forum at the group’s website, 5GTF.org. The company recently confirmed it has installed equipment aligned with its 5GTF standard for fixed wireless services in more than 10 U.S. cities and has promised to offer commercial fixed 5G services this year.
Article updated Jan. 12 to correct information about T-Mobile.