Comcast Business enters the private wireless game

Showing that private wireless networks aren't merely the domain of mobile operators, Comcast Business is entering that market with an initial deployment that brings an enhanced form of 4G and 5G connectivity to Philadelphia's Wells Fargo Center. Comcast will back that up using a mix of its 600MHz spectrum as well as CBRS spectrum.

In addition to standing up a private wireless network to deploy and experiment with various use cases, Comcast Business also intends to use the deployment to "showcase" its new capabilities to current and potential customers, according to Bob Victor, senior vice president of product, Comcast Business.

The deployment, which will use Nokia's Digital Automation Cloud (DAC) platform, will initially focus on some bandwidth-intensive and low-latency video applications in the arena as well as a traffic management system for the lots around the Wells Fargo Center, the Comcast-owned home of the Philadelphia 76ers, Philadelphia Flyers and Philadelphia Wings.

On the video streaming side, initial work will focus on the use of high-end Google Pixel phones at locations such as the player tunnel to shoot HD video that can be distributed with low latency and displayed on the video screen integrated with the Wells Fargo Center's central scoreboard. Mobile phones linked to the private network will also be used to capture video of house announcer Lou Nolan and the antics of Gritty, the Flyers mascot.

Outside the building, Comcast Business plans to build a 5G wireless canopy to help connect scanners for parking lot operations and, potentially, to support a video analytics system that can determine where traffic is congested and provide signage that can direct fans to the quickest way out of the lot. That deployment will initially be done on a private LTE network, Victor said.

Comcast expects to have the deployment installed, tested and operating within the next four to six weeks.

Comcast Business has conducted a few private wireless network trials, but this will be its first large-scale deployment, Victor said.

Growing mobile and wireless portfolio

Comcast Business' move into private wireless networking and services will build on other aspects of its wireless offerings. It already offers a managed service for large Wi-Fi deployments through Deep Blue, a company acquired by Comcast in 2019. Comcast Business also has access to enterprise IoT services from MachineQ, a unit of the company that primarily relies on LoRaWAN low-power/long-range technology. Brian Epstein, CEO of Deep Blue, is now heading up Comcast Business's efforts on 5G private wireless.

Victor said the deployment at the Wells Fargo Center takes shape as various business services clients start to ramp up or at least explore ways to take advantage of private wireless networks.

"It's a very new and emerging technology," Victor said of 5G private wireless. "Just about all of our clients want to talk about 5G."

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— Jeff Baumgartner, Senior Editor, Light Reading

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