GeoLinks begins to plot a fiber/wireless path through RDOF

Fixed wireless provider GeoLinks was one of the biggest winners in the FCC's Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction in 2020. Now, the company is working to move forward on those winnings amid defaults, course changes, funding challenges and additional government spending.

"GeoLinks is prepared to meet these challenges and has adjusted accordingly," the company wrote in response to questions from Light Reading.

The FCC late last month finally approved a portion of GeoLinks' RDOF winnings. The move was noteworthy considering the agency has rejected the applications of some big RDOF winners, including LTD Broadband and SpaceX's Starlink.

However, the agency didn't award the full $235 million that GeoLinks initially won across California, Arizona and Nevada. Instead, the agency awarded only $85 million in funding in Arizona and Nevada.

"Unfortunately, California decided to reject about $462 million in [total] RDOF funds from flowing to the state because they wanted to determine how deployment will be funded to unserved areas. However, while GeoLinks could have started deployment as early as 2023 with its RDOF funding, the award areas it was supposed to serve will now be without high speed broadband for several years to come as California determines how to allocate funding it does not yet have (through BEAD, etc.)," GeoLinks explained.

GeoLinks said it will use a hybrid wireless/fiber network approach to meet its RDOF obligations in Arizona and Nevada. Further, the company suggested that a portion of that network may run on equipment from vendor Curvalux, based on the recent agreement between the two companies.

(Source: dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo)
(Source: dpa picture alliance/Alamy Stock Photo)

That represents a bit of a strategy change from the plan the company discussed in 2021, when it suggested it would use equipment from vendor Globtel running on the DOCSIS 3.1 specification. In its latest comments to Light Reading, GeoLinks said it would use Globtel equipment "where it makes sense," but that it would ultimately "continue to look at all technologies."

Like other providers, GeoLinks confirmed that supply chain constraints and inflation have conspired to raise the price of its network buildout plans above what it budgeted during the FCC's RDOF auction process in 2020. "Bottom line costs are higher than originally planned," the company said. "However, GeoLinks is prepared to meet these challenges and has adjusted accordingly. The FCC approved GeoLinks' RDOF engineering plan, which accounted for these increased costs and challenges."

Finally, GeoLinks continues to make moves outside the shadow of the FCC's RDOF program. The company purchased a substantial amount of millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum licensees from Verizon in 2021, and the company confirmed it continues to look for ways to deploy a fixed wireless access (FWA) network in that spectrum.

The comments from GeoLinks are noteworthy in light of the troubles that some other FWA providers have had. For example, Shentel has exited the FWA industry, Common Networks sold its operations, and Starry is currently looking for a buyer. Mercury Broadband, meanwhile, recently received a $230 million investment from Northleaf Capital Partners in pursuit of its own RDOF buildout.

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Mike Dano, Editorial Director, 5G & Mobile Strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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