Cable giant Charter is preparing to build a massive private LTE network near its offices in Denver. The test network could signal the company's interest in the business of private wireless networking.
"Charter intends to install approximately 100 fixed transmitters and employ approximately 500 fixed and mobile EUDs [End User Devices] during the testing," the company wrote in its filing on the topic to the FCC. "The number of devices is largely driven by the operational environment Charter intends to trial, that of an Enterprise Campus deployment of private LTE. As such, much like Enterprise WiFi, the 100 base stations will be overwhelmingly (95%) comprised of indoor Category A devices, deployed in Charter occupied buildings."
Charter didn't disclose the vendors it is working with on the test, other than to name Federated Wireless as the supplier of its Spectrum Access System (SAS). The company also didn't immediately respond to questions about the new test.
Charter has long been interested in wireless networks and wireless technologies, and has previously disclosed its tests of CBRS 3.5GHz operations for both mobile and fixed applications. Although Charter executives haven't said what the company might do in the CBRS band, many believe Charter could use 3.5GHz spectrum to offer a fixed wireless internet service or some kind of mobile service for smartphones that would run alongside the Spectrum Mobile MVNO the operator launched last year through a partnership with Verizon.
But Charter's new test near its offices in Denver makes clear reference to a private LTE network that would offer the same kinds of functions as an enterprise WiFi network. That could well signal Charter's interest in using the unlicensed CBRS spectrum band for some kind of enterprise network rather than for a commercial offering like fixed wireless Internet access or mobile services for smartphones.
Indeed, Charter isn't the only company that is looking to use the forthcoming CBRS band for private wireless networks. For example, Landmark Dividend plans to use 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum to build out a range of different private LTE networks for its customers. The company recently disclosed the details of its contract with the public transit authority in Dallas to construct a private LTE network to connect up to 500 information kiosks across 90 bus and railway platforms in Dallas.
Moreover, Charter's new CBRS tests come at a fortuitous time. After years of work and months of delay, much of the government's testing of commercial operations in the 3.5GHz CBRS band is now finished, and those in the CBRS sector expect to begin "Initial Commercial Deployments" (ICD) in the band in the coming weeks. ICDs involve FCC staff essentially looking over vendors' shoulders to make sure that everything is working right. If everything looks OK during the IDCs, only then will the FCC allow real commercial deployments. Those in the CBRS industry expect to happen sometime in the third quarter of this year.