Shenandoah Telecommunications Company (Shentel) has rolled out a new fixed wireless access (FWA) service called Beam Internet, and the company’s VP of Wireless Network Development Dan Meenan explained all the parts and pieces of the offering.
“We are initially leveraging attachments to existing macro towers,” said Meenan. The company is attaching three Massive MIMO antennas to existing towers. Meenan said they look like “three large pizza dishes.” The antennas are sourced from Nokia. “Assuming there aren’t significant terrain obstructions, we have a viable service in excess of five miles,” he said.
Next, Shentel must install an antenna on each customer’s home. Before the carrier sends out a technician, it runs computer simulations to determine if there are any outdoor obstructions and if the signal will be sufficient. “At the home we install an outdoor unit; think of it as a smaller pizza box that points toward the macro,” said Meenan. The outdoor unit is sourced from the South Korean company Seowon Intech.
The installer talks to the customer about where the outdoor unit should be placed. The installer then mounts the unit on the house, grounds it, and runs an Ethernet cable from the unit into the home. The customer is charged $99 for the truck roll and installation. “We’re trying to get in and out between two to three hours,” said Meenan.
The only equipment required inside the home is an in-home Wi-Fi router from the vendor Eero (which is now owned by Amazon).
Shentel is initially launching Beam, using its 2.5 GHz spectrum, in portions of Virginia, West Virginia and Ohio. “We don’t have 2.5 GHz spectrum throughout Shentel’s markets today,” said Meenan.
However, Shentel recently won a total of 262 priority access licenses (PALs) in 74 counties at the FCC's CBRS mid-band spectrum auction. The company spent $16 million for the PALs.
Those licenses “essentially cover the remaining balance of our operating markets,” said Meenan. That area includes Pennsylvania, Maryland and Kentucky.
“We haven’t completed our business plan for the CBRS spectrum, but we believe it is ideal spectrum for fixed wireless access,” he said.
4G versus 5G
Shentel’s evolved packet core from Nokia is 4G, but it's 5G-ready. “When we built our core and started deploying our RAN on the macro towers, it was important that we built for the long term,” said Meenan. “Everything we deployed is 5G-ready on the RAN and core. However, the customer premise equipment outdoor unit – we want to wait a bit before we start purchasing 5G equipment at the customer premises side. Once we feel comfortable, it’s a pretty easy pivot to launch 5G.”
Once Shentel makes the software upgrade in its core to 5G, it plans to support 4G and 5G, concurrently, also known as 5G non-standalone. “We believe 5G NSA is perfect for our needs,” said Meenan.
Shentel’s goal is to target underserved homes that have less than two broadband options today. It anticipates competing against DSL providers, wireless internet service providers (WISPs) and some satellite providers.
The Beam Internet service offers three speed tiers up to the highest at 100 Mbps download/10 Mbps upload. Prices will start at $60 per month.
Verizon’s LTE Home
Verizon this week announced that its LTE Home Internet FWA service is now available in parts of 48 states. It's priced at $40 a month for Verizon wireless customers and $60 a month for non-Verizon wireless customers. And Verizon has taken a different approach, basically leveraging its existing LTE network across the country, along with a $240 device in the customer’s home. Verizon’s FWA doesn’t require any antenna to be attached to a subscriber’s home.
Asked why Shentel didn’t do something similar to Verizon, Meenan said, “Our wireless mobility network is part of an affiliate agreement with Sprint/T-Mobile. In that wireless mobility agreement, T-Mobile has an option to purchase that network, and they’ve announced they’re going to exercise that option.”