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Private LTE Networks Headed to the Slammer? GTL to Test CBRS

Mike Dano
11/5/2019

GTL, one of the two big US telecommunications providers to inmates in prisons, is looking to test voice and video applications on a private LTE network running in 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum.

Company officials declined to answer questions on the project from Light Reading. An FCC application indicates GTL will test equipment from Nokia in a rural residential area outside of Tucson, Ariz.

GTL's filing provides further evidence of a growing interest in private wireless networks, specifically those using cellular technologies and not WiFi. Such networks operate outside of commercial wireless offerings from the likes of AT&T and Verizon, and can support a wide variety of applications, from employee communications to IoT monitoring to autonomous robots. Customers for such networks could potentially span the gamut, from massive corporations like Ford and Charter Communications to government agencies such as the Department of Energy.

Indeed, according to a survey of more than 300 enterprises conducted by Nemertes Research and highlighted by cellular equipment vendor ip.access, more than 86% of organizations currently use WiFi technology for their private networks but 25% are "actively looking at switching to other technologies" over concerns about cost, reliability, security and performance.

Moreover, research firm SNS Telecom predicted spending on LTE and 5G private networks would reach $4.7 billion annually by the end of 2020, growing to $8 billion by the end of 2023.

Already, Nokia's CTO has mused that the private wireless network opportunity could eventually be twice as large as the market for commercial cellular networks.

GTL's ambitions
It's difficult to know exactly what GTL might do with a private wireless LTE network in CBRS 3.5GHz spectrum. Again, the company isn't talking. However, the recent availability of CBRS spectrum appears to have encouraged interest in the construction of such networks.

After almost a decade of work, the FCC this year authorized unlicensed operations in the CBRS band; previously the band was reserved exclusively for US government users, including the US Navy. The CBRS band is viewed as ideal for private networks considering it's midband spectrum that can both cover wide geographic areas while also carrying significant amounts of data.

GTL, for its part, offers a range of telecommunications products and services to prisons and inmates. The company boasts of products ranging from regular phones to video calling services to tablets for inmates that provide "a restricted operating system that thwarts unauthorized attempts to modify a device's internal settings and prohibits users from installing unapproved applications."

GTL said it sells services into 2,300 facilities across 1.8 million inmates in all 50 US states. The company splits the business sector -- valued around $1.2 billion -- with rival Securus.

However, GTL and Securus have both come under scrutiny for the fees they charge prisoners for making calls. For example, the FCC reported recently that GTL can charge more than $17 for a 15-minute call.

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

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