Arizona WISP Plans LTE Expansion Using 3.5GHz CBRS Spectrum

Mile High Networks is just days away from launching an LTE network in Arizona using 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum in an initial commercial deployment (ICD).

The company last summer launched service using the 3.65MHz band but is now waiting on a software release from one of its vendors that will enable full 3.5GHz CBRS ICD.

Prior to that Mile High had been using 5GHz unlicensed spectrum to deliver WiFi services to its customers in Yavapai County, Arizona. The wireless Internet service provider (WISP), which has been in business since 2013, caters to customers with very limited broadband options. In fact, most of its customers previously only had dial-up connections.

The move to LTE using CBRS spectrum will open up a whole new customer base for the company. "Our customers are anyone who wants Internet. Our focus is in rural areas and there are thousands in our area that only have dial-up," says Mile High CEO and founder Nathan Fillmore. "What's nice is we could potentially almost quadruple the size of our company."

Mile High currently has about 2,000 customers. Fillmore said the company's customers include local businesses such as insurance agencies and restaurants and residential users that just want to check their email or stream video.

Because the CBRS band is midband spectrum, it has better propagation than other spectrum bands. That means that signals can travel for miles and penetrate buildings. With the LTE service over CBRS, Fillmore expects to be able to reach customers that previously lived too far away to get service from Mile High.

In addition, the company also will have more bandwidth and capacity. "We have had to turn customers away because our existing technology can only handle so many subscribers," Fillmore said. "We believe we can grow rapidly and offer higher speeds. There's a growing demand for more speed."

Mile High is working with ExteNet Systems for its CBRS deployment. ExteNet operates as a neutral host and runs the network. The firm will use Nokia eNodeB LTE basestations and Federated Wireless will provide the Spectrum Access System (SAS), which prevents interference with existing CBRS users. ExteNet said it also works with other SAS vendors including Google and CommScope and other infrastructure vendors.

"All of our gear is certified and ready to go," says Jason Osborn, vice president of sales at ExteNet Systems.

The FCC last month approved the use of the 3.5GHz band for commercial operations but wants to initially monitor these deployments to see how they function. If everything is OK with the ICDs, the band will then be opened for unfettered, unlicensed commercial use. CBRS players believe that will likely happen later this year or early next year.

According to Mike Wendy, spokesman for the WISPA, the wireless Internet service provider association, companies like Mile High Networks are in need of spectrum and the CBRS spectrum provides them with an opportunity to innovate. Wendy described Mile High's initial deployment as a "test bed" and said it is one of a handful of WISPA members that are deploying LTE using CBRS.

CBRS sharing
The CBRS spectrum band is unique because it has to be shared with incumbent users of the band, including the US Navy. The SAS makes sure commercial users won't interfere with the incumbent users. The FCC and NTIA have been testing SASs and other elements of the sharing system in the band since last year, and the NTIA recently signed off on commercial operations in the band.

Next year the FCC plans to auction a portion of the CBRS band for licensed uses.

— Sue Marek, special to Light Reading. Follow her @suemarek.

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