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open RAN

FiberLight to use open RAN and 5G for RDOF deployment

FiberLight operates 16,000 route miles of fiber across much of Texas and parts of Washington, DC, and Virginia, offering standard enterprise telecom services, including transport, backhaul and data center connections.

But with $1.8 million in winnings from the recent FCC Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, the company plans to catapult itself into the cutting edge of wireless technology with a mix of 5G components leveraging open RAN technologies.

The move would put FiberLight alongside the likes of Dish Network in the US and Rakuten in Japan in that it plans to construct a wireless network from scratch using brand new technologies supplied by up-and-coming equipment vendors.

"We know the technology is going that way," Ron Kormos, FiberLight's chief strategy officer, told Light Reading of the company's plans. "This is going to be our first venture into wireless directly."

An RDOF opportunity

FiberLight's business primarily centers on servicing enterprise customers like Microsoft and Verizon with fiber connections. The company attempted to branch out via the FCC's Connect America Fund Phase II (Phase II) auction in 2018, which allocated roughly $1.5 billion for the construction of telecom networks in rural areas, but was not among the winning bidders.

The company tried again in the FCC's RDOF auction last year, and this time managed to walk away with $1,772,705.80 in winnings.

Like the CAF II auction, the FCC's RDOF program is a reverse auction where companies and entities that submit the lowest bid for covering a particular area win. However, then they're on the hook to cover that area with broadband services. Winning bidders have six years to deploy broadband services.

With its winnings, FiberLight is required to cover 4,665 locations across three states with Internet speeds between 50 Mbit/s and 100 Mbit/s.

Kormos said FiberLight participated in the RDOF with such partners as Skylark Wireless and Evolve Cellular, and as a result FiberLight itself will cover only locations near its existing fiber network in Georgia and Virginia.

The build plan

Once the FCC approves its application, Kormos said FiberLight plans to use the unlicensed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band for its buildout, and is in discussions with Globalstar about potentially adding the company's 2.4GHz spectrum to the effort.

FiberLight plans to purchase its 5G, open RAN radios and customer premises equipment (CPE) from its partner Skylark, which Kormos said is building the equipment now and expects to be able to ship it within a year. Kormos said FiberLight expects to spend roughly $1 million for the radios and CPE it needs.

He said the company has not yet decided whether it will construct its own cell towers or rent them from tower companies like Crown Castle. He said FiberLight will need around six cell towers – each would cost around $70,000 to construct or $750 per month to rent.

Although the company has six years to finish its buildout, Kormos said the company hopes to finish in around two years. If it is successful, FiberLight would then sell 50Mbit/s or 100Mbit/s Internet connections for roughly $50 per month to a total of around 3,700 locations across parts of Georgia and Virginia.

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

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