C Spire Adds Another 5G Service to Its Toolbox

Mike Dano
1/24/2019

C Spire, a regional telecom network operator with roughly 1 million mobile customers, is offering a fixed wireless internet service running on its licensed 28GHz spectrum using transmission technology and equipment from Phazr, a technology startup acquired by JMA Wireless last year.

Importantly, the internet service -- which provides download speeds of up to 750 Mbps, upload speeds up to 600 Mbps, and latency as low as 8 milliseconds -- is only being offered in the 84-home Landon Place subdivision in Gulfport, Miss.

The launch by C Spire doesn't come as much of a surprise. The company in May of 2017 offered extensive details of its tests of Phazr's technology as its corporate campus. JMA -- which builds indoor and outdoor wireless networks for a variety of customers -- acquired Phazr's technology and around 60 of its engineers in December of 2018.

Craig Sparks, C Spire's chief innovation officer, explained that the operator's commercial launch of Phazr's technology in the Landon Place subdivision essentially represents the addition of another tool to C Spire's 5G toolbox. “There’s going to have to be a full spectrum of deployment options," he said.

“We have a very realistic approach where there’s not a one-size-fits-all," added Alan Jones, C Spire's SVP of access and deployment.

C Spire is essentially adding the Phazr option to its lineup of fixed wireless technologies. The company last year launched a much wider deployment of fixed wireless services, reaching thousands of homes, using equipment from Mimosa and Siklu running in unlicensed 5.8 GHz spectrum and providing internet speeds of around 150 Mbps. (See C-Spire Claims to Be First in the US With 5G.)

Sparks explained that deployments using Mimosa and Siklu equipment are primarily intended to be used "under the canopy," where signals from cell towers 20 or 30 feet tall travel underneath obstructions like trees. The company's Phazr deployments, meantime, will occur in locations where a there aren't any trees -- thus, a Phazr cell tower can be up to 150 feet tall. As C Spire expands its fixed wireless service, it will select the technology that best meets the needs of a particular location's topography.

Sparks acknowledged that operations in millimeter-wave spectrum bands, like the company's 28GHz spectrum it is using for the Phazr deployments, can be blocked by trees and other obstacles. Thus, C Spire's Phazr network will need a line-of-sight connection between a cell tower and a receiver installed on a user's home or office. (Interestingly, C Spire's Phazr network uses licensed 28GHz spectrum for download connections and unlicensed 5.8GHz spectrum for upload connections, which Sparks pointed out is a novel approach in the industry.)

Despite the differences between the Phazr network and the Mimosa/Siklu network, the result for customers is roughly the same, aside from speeds: Customers who subscribe to either network get unlimited, uncapped internet services for $50 a month without a contract. They also don't have to pay for a receiver to be installed on their home. The receiver communicates with a nearby cell tower and routes internet connections into a WiFi router in the user's home or office.

Although C Spire is branding its fixed wireless service as a "5G" offering, neither the Phazr equipment nor the Mimosa/Siklu equipment adheres to the 3GPP's 5G NR standard. Instead, both options are proprietary technologies based on the 802.11 WiFi standard. However, C Spire's Sparks argues that operator is meeting the IMT-2020 requirements for fifth-generation wireless network technology with its fixed wireless services.

C Spire's work with Mimosa, Siklu and Phazr are part of the company's wider pledge last year to use several different types of fixed wireless technologies to reach up to 200,000 consumers and businesses across its coverage area. That effort sits directly alongside C Spire's ongoing fiber-to-the-home buildout; in fact C Spire's Jones said that the company could eventually build fiber to locations it is currently serving with fixed wireless technologies.

C Spire joins Verizon in using 28GHz millimeter-wave transmissions to broadcast fixed wireless internet connections to homes, offices and other stationary locations. Verizon, for its part, launched its 5G Home service in parts of four cities in October, and promises to expand the offering to additional locations in the coming months. C Spire, Verizon and other fixed wireless providers are essentially using wireless technologies to directly challenge wired internet service providers like Comcast, Charter, CenturyLink and others. (See C-Spire Claims to Be First in the US With 5G.)

So will C Spire eventually launch mobile 5G services, like T-Mobile, Verizon, Sprint and others? "Nothing to share there at this time," Sparks said, adding "of course we're looking into it."

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

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