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May 9, 2023
NEW ORLEANS – Charter Communications has made no secret of its interest in building a 5G network using its 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum holdings. But that's just a small part of the company's wider wireless ambitions, according to Gary Koerper, SVP of emerging technology for the cable operator.
He said Charter is hoping to build a hybrid network that spans fiber and DOCSIS on the wired side and Wi-Fi and 5G on the wireless side. And in terms of the spectrum bands that Charter wants to use for 5G, Koerper specifically called out the 3.1GHz-3.45GHz band, the 7GHz band, and the 37GHz band in addition to the CBRS band.
To be clear, Charter officials have previously hinted at the company's interest in spectrum beyond CBRS. But during his keynote appearance here at the Connect X trade show, Koerper offered a more coherent and cohesive view of Charter's wireless networking ambitions.
Figure 1: Koerper speaks at Connect X, a trade show hosted by the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA).
(Source: Mike Dano/Light Reading)
However, Koerper cautioned that Charter will continue to keep things simple for its customers. "They care about constant connectivity," rather than what type of network they're on, he said.
Mobile success, and expansion
Charter's current mobile offering relies primarily on Verizon's wireless network, though most of its Spectrum Mobile customers' data actually travels over the company's Wi-Fi hotspots. Koerper said around 85% of Charter's mobile data travels over its Wi-Fi hotspots, and "we're working to increase that number," he said.
He pointed to Charter's new "speed boost" feature as an example of the company's approach to wireless. He said the offering ensures that Charter's Spectrum Mobile smartphone customers receive the fastest Wi-Fi speeds possible over the company's wired network, even if they don't subscribe to those speedy services via their in-home Internet service plan. That means a Charter home Internet customer who pays for the company's 200 Mbit/s speed tier might get 1 Gbit/s speeds over their in-home Wi-Fi when they use their Spectrum Mobile smartphone.
Charter's mobile offering has been impressively successful. Charter added 686,000 mobile lines in the first quarter of 2023. The company ended the period with almost 6 million lines.
And in order to reduce its MVNO payments to Verizon, Charter has indicated its interest in building small-scale, neighborhood-sized wireless networks in select locations using its CBRS spectrum. Charter spent around $465 million in 2020 for CBRS spectrum licenses in its cable footprint. Charter completed the buildout of its mobile core network in the first quarter of 2022, and company officials recently confirmed the company is operating a CBRS network in one large, unnamed market. But Charter hasn't disclosed the timing of any possible future rollouts.
In his keynote, Charter's Koerper said the company is interested in obtaining more spectrum beyond CBRS, whether that's licensed spectrum or shared spectrum. He specifically said the company is eyeing the 37GHz band to provide an overlay to its planned CBRS network in order to increase users' speeds to up to 1 Gbit/s.
Already Charter has conducted significant testing of a shared spectrum approach in the 37GHz band, according to filings the company has made with the FCC.
Charter's interest in the 37GHz band is noteworthy considering that spectrum sits in the millimeter wave (mmWave) bands that Verizon and AT&T initially used for their early 5G launches in 2018 and 2019. Such spectrum often supports blazing fast speeds but it generally can't cover much geographic territory.
Koerper also mentioned Charter's interest in the 7GHz band and the 3.1GHz-3.45GHz band, but didn't provide any more details on exactly how the company might put those bands to use in its network. He acknowledged that the 3.1GHz-3.45GHz band is currently used by the US military, and he said the wireless industry ought to share the band with military users.
"We want to broaden the use of shared spectrum," Koerper said.
However, that position puts Charter at odds with the likes of Verizon and T-Mobile. The US wireless industry – through its trade association CTIA – has specifically argued against spectrum sharing scenarios, and has instead pushed for exclusive-use spectrum licensing paradigms.
Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading
Based in Denver, Mike has covered the wireless industry as a journalist for almost two decades, first at RCR Wireless News and then at FierceWireless and recalls once writing a story about the transition from black and white to color screens on cell phones.
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