Ericsson at the Core of BendBroadband's HSPA+ Tilt

Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) is supplying the packet core and radio access gear for BendBroadband 's deployment of an HSPA+ (High Speed Packet Access Plus) fixed wireless broadband service in Central Oregon that, the MSO claims, is delivering average download speeds of between 6Mbit/s and 8Mbit/s.

That wireless platform, which is upgradable to Long Term Evolution (LTE), can support speed bursts of 15Mbit/s "under optimal conditions," the MSO said, touting it as "the country's fastest wireless broadband service." HSPA+ downlinks can max out at 56Mbit/s -- in theory at least -- but bandwidth is shared so actual speeds are generally much slower. (See BendBroadband Tunes Up Wireless Broadband.)

BendBroadband's commercial deployment is the first in the U.S. for HSPA+. AT&T Inc. (NYSE: T) is continuing to test the technology, but is expected to make the jump to LTE using its advanced wireless services (AWS) and 700MHz spectrum. T-Mobile US Inc. , meanwhile, is currently testing the technology in Philadelphia. (See 4G World: AT&T – an LTE Tortoise and AT&T to Boost 3G Speeds .)

BendBroadband is fueling the launch with the AWS spectrum it won at auction in 2006, says MSO chief technology officer Frank Miller, who also confirmed the connection with Ericsson. In contrast, most MSO members of the SpectrumCo LLC -- Comcast Corp. (Nasdaq: CMCSA, CMCSK), Cox Communications Inc. , Bright House Networks , and Time Warner Cable Inc. (NYSE: TWC) -- have been content to sit on their AWS spectrum, though Cox intends to tap its AWS holdings for its own wireless network buildout. (See SpectrumCo Gets Licenses , Cox Pivots Back Into Mobile Services , and Cox Wireless: Soup to Nuts .)

BendBroadband also intends to use the 700MHz spectrum it won at the more recent federal auction, but, for now, it's holding it in reserve for when it needs more capacity to meet customers' wireless bandwidth needs, according to Miller. He says the MSO has spent about $13 million for its AWS and 700MHz spectrum and its supporting packet core. As the 700MHz auction went, BendBroadband locked in a Block B license for $6.74 million. (See The Great Cable Spectrum Speculation.)

BendBroadband already has 17 towers operating, giving it a wireless broadband footprint that extends beyond its traditional wired cable footprint to also include the Madras region to the north and La Pine to the south, as well as east-west coverage from Prineville to Sisters.

The aim of the service is to close the "digital divide" in parts of Central Oregon that are out of reach of wired high-speed Internet services, or where it's cost-prohibitive to build plant to.

Miller says BendBroadband is also looking to expand the HSPA+ offering into other areas where it already owns spectrum, but couldn't reveal any specific timeframe for that.

Looking ahead, BendBroadand hopes to complement the wireless data product with a fixed wireless home telephone service sometime in "early 2010." Miller says that offering will be powered by a SIP-based end point that can communicate with BendBroadband's HSPA+ network.

BendBroadband has not named a supplier for that piece of the puzzle, but Miller confirms that BandRich Inc. of Taiwan is supplying the HSPA+ router and USB-based modem for the MSO's initial wireless broadband offering. That router also bakes in a WiFi access point.

BendBroadband hasn't said how many customers are on board yet, but "the phones are ringing off the hook," Miller claims. "There's definitely a need for a good, affordable, high-performance product for rural America, and this foots the bill."

Bundled prices for the service range from $39.99 to $74.99 per month, with all tiers subject to monthly usage caps. The router/modem costs $99.99 with a 12-month contract, or $199.99 without. Bend says the forthcoming voice service will be marketed under three plans ranging from $18.99 to $38.99 per month.

As for a future move to LTE, Miller says BendBroadband is still discussing it with several vendors that supply consumer-side gear and has no deployment plans to offer yet. "We're negotiating with several vendors. Once that clears up, we'll work on a test production timeline," he says. "An HSPA+ to LTE [conversion] is pretty simple."

— Jeff Baumgartner, Site Editor, Cable Digital News

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