GCI, which operates a wireless network in Alaska, is embarking on a major upgrade that promises to improve its 4G LTE service and add 5G capabilities. The company said the effort would result in a 5x boost to customers' connection speeds.
A GCI spokesperson confirmed to Light Reading that the operator is deploying 5G in its 600MHz spectrum starting first in Anchorage and then expanding at a later, unspecified date to other major Alaskan cities such as Wasilla, Juno and Fairbanks.
The company said it has so far upgraded five cell towers in Anchorage to 5G, with plans to upgrade all 80 towers in the city by the end of the year. Ericsson is the operator's prime vendor and is conducting the work. Ericsson has also played a starring role in the 5G upgrade efforts by other rural wireless network operators in the US including Nex-Tech Wireless in Kansas and Colorado and Carolina West Wireless in North Carolina.
GCI explained that its upgrade involves increasing the total amount of spectrum it is using in Anchorage from 15MHz to roughly 60MHz. The company said it's deploying LTE into its PCS, AWS, 700MHz and 850MHz bands, and 5G into its 600MHz spectrum. It's also adding LTE technologies including 256 QAM, three-channel carrier aggregation and 4x4 MIMO.
The company said customers who had been receiving peak speeds of 50Mbit/s can now expect speeds of up to several hundred megabits per second.
However, much of that speed bump is likely due to the operator's deployment of additional spectrum and LTE technologies, rather than solely due to its 5G upgrade. That's because 5G in lowband spectrum like 600MHz doesn't perform much better than high-end LTE networks.
That said, GCI said it would expand its 5G signals into its PCS and AWS bands via the application of EN-DC dual connectivity technology in the coming weeks.
GCI is offering 5G on the Samsung Galaxy S20 and said it would expand its 5G handset lineup in the coming months.
Importantly, GCI said it would not charge extra for 5G. In that respect, GCI joins just about every other operator in the US with the notable exception of Verizon, which is working on adding a $10 per month 5G fee to its unlimited data plans.
GCI operates a fiber network throughout the state, which it is using to backhaul its wireless traffic. The company said 82% of Alaskans are covered by its LTE network today.
GCI competes against AT&T and Verizon in the Alaskan mobile sector, though neither of those two operators has yet launched its 5G services in the state. AT&T, however, probably isn't far behind GCI in 5G, given its intention to roll out 5G on lowband spectrum nationwide by the middle of this year.
GCI counted a total of 182,300 mobile lines in service in its most recent quarterly filing, which accounted for roughly 22% of the company's overall revenues.