As the FCC prepares to subsidize 5G deployments in rural America, a regional ISP that is part of a 118-year-old Rust Belt telco says it is able to deliver gigabit speeds over fixed wireless networks using the 60GHz spectrum band that will support 5G with the 3GPP's Release 17. Watch Communications, an Ohio-based ISP that is part of Benton Ridge Telephone Company, told Light Reading it will use a combination of Ericsson radio equipment and fiber to deploy 5G fixed wireless in select parts of its service area, which includes Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Kentucky.
"We are not just a wireless company," Watch CEO Chris Daniels told Light Reading. "We use fiber where it's appropriate." He added that Watch has grown organically and through acquisitions, and thus has ended up with equipment from a number of different wireless vendors in its network. Going forward, however, Watch intends to use Ericsson for LTE and 5G, and Cambium for deployments at 5GHz. Daniels said Watch is also heavily invested in CBRS.
Watch was awarded approximately $53 million from the FCC's Connect America Fund II program for rural Internet, which it is using to expand fixed broadband services to nearly 24,000 locations. However, Daniels said Watch did not pursue CAF II funding for ultra-fast gigabit service because "the only feasible approach to delivering gigabit service at scale in 2018 was the deployment of fiber to every home and business." Now, he says fixed wireless has created new opportunities for gigabit service in rural areas.
"60GHz point-to-multipoint solutions from Siklu and IgniteNet have already been deployed by Watch and other operators to deliver gigabit speeds," Daniels told the FCC. He wrote to the agency in response to its decision to exclude wireless companies from the fastest tier of the $20.4 billion Rural Digital Opportunity Fund. Equipment makers including Ericsson, Cambium and Siklu also argued against the FCC's decision to prevent fixed wireless Internet providers from bidding on the so-called "Gigabit tier" of the RDOF.
"Fixed wireless solutions that operate in 28GHz, 60GHz, 37GHz and other millimeter wave (mmW) bands now offer both the technical capability and economic feasibility of delivering gigabit services in rural America," Daniels told the FCC. He also said that Cambium, Radwin and Siklu are "months away" from launching solutions that use Facebook's Terragraph mesh technology to extend the reach of mmWave networks. This would be key in rural areas, which are obviously different from the dense urban areas in which Tier 1 operators like Verizon have been deploying mmWave technology.
Daniels told Light Reading that the FCC's decision to exclude fixed wireless from the RDOF's top tier is "not necessarily a done deal" and he thinks there is a "high probability" the agency will reconsider, primarily because of statements FCC commissioners have already made about the role of 5G in providing broadband service to America. Watch, which spent less than $1 million on mmWave spectrum in the FCC's most recent auction, plans to continue its fixed wireless deployments whether or not it gets to bid for RDOF funding in the gigabit tier. But the RDOF funds would allow Watch to expand into more rural areas.
Rural 5G is obviously important to the FCC. The agency touted T-Mobile's promise to extend 5G to rural America as a major benefit of the merger with Sprint, and more recently it moved forward with a plan to release $9 billion for 5G in rural areas. So whether or not Watch and its allies convince the FCC to reconsider the RDOF's Gigabit tier, it seems clear that federal funding for rural 5G is coming.
— Martha DeGrasse, special to Light Reading. Follow her @mardegrasse.