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4G/3G/WiFi

6GHz ruling a 'big deal' for cable, Charter exec says

The FCC's move to free up gobs of bandwidth in the 6GHz band for unlicensed use will be a game-changer for cable operators as it pertains to network convergence strategies and new, bandwidth- and latency-sensitive services, a top Charter Communications exec said.

"It's a big deal for the cable industry, no question," Craig Cowden, Charter's SVP of wireless technology, said Friday during an event hosted by industry group Wi-Fi Now that sized up the near-term and long-term implications of Thursday's FCC ruling. "Yesterday truly was an historic day."

And it could help Charter, which offers mobile service through its MVNO agreement with Verizon, as it moves ahead with a network convergence plan for its wired and wireless networks.

"Our goal is to deliver ubiquitous wireless and wired connectivity to our customers anywhere on any device," Cowden said. "Wi-Fi plays a huge role in making that happen."

Cowden also sees Wi-Fi and 5G working together, calling any sort of Us vs. Them discussion a "false debate."

"5G is going to be a critical generational update for mobility networks … and we fully support it," he said. "We're as interested in 5G as anything we do."

Tied to the general network convergence discussion, Cowden said Charter's interest includes being able to maintain consistent and persistent policy management whether the customer is inside or outside the home or connecting via a mobile or static device.

And opening up the 6GHz band is also critical, he said, because it will provide cable operators and others with access to as much as 1200MHz of clean and continuous spectrum as Wi-Fi's legacy bands in 2.4GHz and 5GHz contend with a multitude of devices that are increasingly congesting the home network. He said this issue is particularly acute in apartments and other multiple dwelling unit (MDU) environments.

Cowden also sees Wi-Fi 6E, an extension of the standard that will take advantage of newly freed 6GHz spectrum, fitting in well with cable's "10G" initiative, which is gunning to deliver symmetric 10-Gig services over a mix of wired and wireless access technologies.

Early use cases
Wi-Fi 6E, which will make use of multiple, bigger 160MHz-wide channels, will likewise be able to support a range of bandwidth-intensive and latency-sensitive apps and services, including "tetherless" virtual and augmented reality devices, holographic lightfield displays and more advanced telehealth capabilities.

"It's important to us that Wi-Fi technology keeps up with that pace so that we can continue to offer Wi-Fi-interfacing as we bring in those much higher bandwidths," he said.

Earlier in the day, Charles Cheevers, chief technology officer of CPE solutions at CommScope, expanded on service provider use cases for Wi-Fi 6E, noting that they will initially manifest with "bookend applications" that tie together the gateway with client devices. "We need solutions, not just devices now," he said.

One prime example is teaming access points with a set-top boxes outfitted with Wi-Fi 6E to ensure non-buffering connectivity for 4K video streaming, as well as gaming consoles or even new cloud-based gaming platforms that use Wi-Fi-connected controllers.

Cable operators and other types of service providers can also use the new platform as a wireless backhaul between a modem with an access point that replaces or supplants the need to connect them with Ethernet cables.

Charter, which relies on wired connections between its modems and the Wi-Fi router, is a prime potential example of that. Cowden said Charter could tap into a 6GHz backhaul so a router can be more centrally located to maximize throughput and coverage in a customer's home. That same backhaul could also be used to connect the router to Wi-Fi "pod" extenders, he added.

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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