Getting decent broadband speeds to homes in rural areas has always been a challenge, but through the use of some innovative technologies, Rise Broadband is encouraged by what it’s seeing, particularly in the areas of TV white space (TVWS) and the unlicensed 60 GHz band.
“It’s really a year of innovation for us,” said Jeff Kohler, Rise’s co-founder and chief development officer, in an interview with FierceWireless. Kohler is on the board of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), which is convening in Cincinnati this week for its annual WISPAmerica conference.
Rise Broadband isn’t jumping headfirst into 5G; it’s focused on getting 25/3 (25 megabits per second downloads and 3 megabits per second uploads) out to people in rural areas where broadband speeds pale in comparison to urban areas.
That said, some of the equipment coming from the vendor ecosystem is incorporating a lot of the technology that forms the basis of 5G—namely Multi-User MIMO and beamforming antenna technologies that are being built into the gear that Rise is buying today, according to Kohler.
Rise Broadband, which offers services in 16 states, relies on the 5 GHz band as its workhorse band, but it also uses lightly licensed 3.65 GHz and a small amount of licensed 2.5 GHz. It has mostly phased out of the 2.4 GHz and 900 MHz bands, two unlicensed bands that historically were the foundation of Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) but are too crowded. It’s deploying in some TV white space at 470-698 MHz.
“We’ve got our traditional macro tower model,” which has been tried and true for some time, Kohler said. But even though Rise Broadband might be the largest WISP in the country, it’s still a small business by any standards and it continues to look for the most cost-efficient way to build out sites. It uses some tower sites provided by the Big 3 tower companies, but for cost efficiencies, it’s turning mostly to a mix of water towers, grain elevators and other types of structures to gain vertical height in rural areas.
The company, which has grown rapidly through a series of acquisitions, operates on about 3,000 sites within its service area. For the past 13 years it’s been in business, Rise Broadband has been delivering broadband services off macro towers to distances of 4 to 6 miles.
However, the last couple of years have probably represented the greatest period of innovation from the network equipment vendors in the space, so much so that it’s seeing tripling of capacity. The access points on towers are able to handle far more capacity than they were before without a big increase in the price of the network gear, according to Kohler.
Because Rise Broadband has acquired so many companies—114 at last count—it’s been accustomed to using a variety of vendors, including Cambium, Mimosa and Ubiquiti, to name a few.
TVWS, 60 GHz trials
Part of the innovation that it’s seeing is in the form of TV white space. Kohler said he applauds what Microsoft and vendors are doing to advance the ecosystem. Rise just outfitted its first three towers with TVWS gear in rural Illinois. All of the lab and field testing so far has shown it can deliver speeds in excess of 25/3, and it can be done at greater distances. “We like what we’re seeing and hearing thus far in TV white space,” he said.
The company also likes what it’s seeing and hearing thus far at 60 GHz to get super high speeds to homes. “And we like what we’re seeing in the ability to put up small cells and smaller towers to get closer to the customer,” he added.
“We have a lot of tools in the bag and the good news is we have a lot of levers to pull and the bad news is we have a lot of levers to pull” and that means picking and choosing your battles, he said. For now, Rise is primarily a rural service provider, and it’s staying focused on that.