CCA Conference: U.S. Regional Carriers Deploying 5G, actively looking at Fixed Wireless+ CTIA on 5G

Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) conference :

Small and regional carriers are taking different approaches to 5G and fixed wireless, said Eric Boudriau, Ericsson North America head-customer unit regional carriers, at the Competitive Carriers Association (CCA) [1.] conference on September 28th in Portland, OR. “Everybody starts from a different position,” he said. Fixed wireless is “really, really accelerating” in the U.S. and internationally, he said. Other executives stressed the importance of addressing federal infrastructure rules to better fund wireless.  The discussion was streamed live from Portland, Oregon.

Note 1. CCA was founded in 1992 by nine rural and regional wireless carriers as a carrier centric organization. Since its founding, CCA has grown to become the nation’s leading association for competitive wireless providers serving all areas of the United States.

Alaska’s GCI deployed 5G in its first market in the spring of 2020, in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, said John Myhre, vice president-wireless technology. “We’ve done very well,” he said. “We are continuing to roll out 5G as we roll through different markets.” GCI hasn’t decided what spectrum bands it will use for a fixed-wireless offering, Myhre said. “As a fixed and mobile provider, we have options,” he said. “It’s making sure that we fit the market and the requirement against the technology, not try to force it.  In Alaska, everything is just really big. Any project that we do is a big project.” GCI is laying fiber to reach the Aleutian Islands, he noted, in a $58 million project requiring more than 800 miles of undersea cable to reach rural markets.

“We are actively looking at fixed (wireless),” with trials to start in the next 18 months, he said. Wisconsin-based Cellcom launched 5G in February, said CEO Brighid Riordan. The carrier is deploying some fixed wireless using 4G and citizens broadband radio service spectrum and has found the roll out challenging, she said. “We love our trees in Wisconsin, we love the lakes,” she said. “When there’s a valley, when there are trees, it provides a challenge,” she said. Small carriers need government funding to reach some markets, Riordan said. “If it were easy to provide broadband to every rural person in America, it would already be done,” she said: “There’s not necessarily a business case for these very rural customers.”

UScellular is still deploying 5G, market-by-market, said Rebecca Thompson, vice president-government affairs. The carrier started with high-band, she said. “As we get access to some more of our mid-band spectrum we’ll have a much more robust 5G product in the future,” she said. When the provider will get some of its licenses remains to be determined. “There’s some clearing and coordination … and we will still have to actually get the licenses for some of that spectrum,” she said. Mid-band “has proven to really help with geographic reach in a cost effective way” and “is really critical to deploy in rural areas,”  The “good news” is fixed wireless is “mature — it’s ready, it’s reliable, it’s offering speeds that people want at home,” Thompson said. It shouldn’t be a foregone conclusion” that the NTIA’s broadband, equity, access and deployment program won’t fund fixed wireless, she added.

UScellular wants to see “less of the thumb on the scale” favoring fiber, she said. Federal funds so far are biased toward fiber and the wireless industry has to fight for more neutral rules for making awards, Boudriau said. Fixed wireless may see the most deployment “where the government isn’t involved,” Myhre said: “We have areas where we may not get funding, but we still have a need.”



CTIA at MWC-Las Vegas:

CTIA President Meredith Baker said Wednesday at the start of the Mobile World Congress in Las Vegas. “We’re here to talk about what 5G is,” she said: “5G is innovation. 5G is competition, and most importantly, 5G is here.”

Baker said the wireless industry needs “the right policies” from the government. “Take C band as proof,” she said. “Turning on a portion of that spectrum saw speeds increase up to 50%, and that was 100 MHz. Imagine what 150 or 200 more could do. Well, we shouldn’t have to imagine. … We need more mid-band — licensed mid-band in large contiguous blocks.” The wireless industry also needs Congress to extend the FCC’s auction authority, set to expire Friday, and designate more bands for auction, she said.

Baker also discussed the importance of fixed wireless. “For many Americans, the first 5G killer app is home broadband,” she said. “The fastest growing broadband provider is now a wireless company,” she said. U.S. wireless carriers already offer fixed service to 70 million homes, she noted.

More than 300 million AT&T customers are covered by 5G, all of the company’s major handsets support the new generation of wireless “and we’ve got business models being created,” said David Christopher, executive vice president-business development and strategic alliances. “But it is early days,” he said. Christopher spoke with Recon Analytics’ Roger Entner.

We’re two years in,” Entner responded: “At this point in the 4G period we still thought that sending pictures was the killer app for 4G. We were wrong.” Deploying a new G “is not a 100-meter dash,” he said. “This will take years.”

There’s a very good chance that we don’t know what the killer app for 5G is,” Christopher said. Augmented reality and the massive IoT will  be important. The median speeds of 5G are already four times that of 4G two years ago, he said: “Latency is a stickier wicket. … It’s something that will certainly get better.” In some cases, better speed is “masking” the need for improved latency, he said.


2 thoughts on “CCA Conference: U.S. Regional Carriers Deploying 5G, actively looking at Fixed Wireless+ CTIA on 5G

  1. As you referenced, GCI has a huge landline telecom last-mile presence in Alaska (the biggest telco now?).

    Cellcom has a similar terrestrial presence with its sister company, Nsight. Both of these efforts give these companies pragmatic views on the selection of technology to serve a given customer.

  2. FWA as the first big 5G use case

    Now, thanks to widespread FWA services powered by midband spectrum, that situation is much different. For example, with roughly 1.5 million FWA customers, T-Mobile is already the nation’s ninth largest Internet service provider (ISP). And, according to BroadbandNow, it’s also the nation’s fifth fastest ISP.

    Together, the FWA offerings from T-Mobile and Verizon have – for the first time ever – stopped the cable industry’s seemingly inexorable growth curve.

    Lately, it’s been hard for some US wireless industry executives to keep their 5G swagger to a minimum.

    “Great progress, very confident in what we are delivering, delighted with the speeds that we are delivering on in-home broadband,” T-Mobile’s networking chief Neville Ray said this summer. “I think we are bringing to the market probably the real first 5G use case. Everybody has been hunting for this thing. But in-home broadband, fixed wireless is here, and it’s here to stay.”

    Of course, that’s a matter of some debate. Some in the cable industry have described FWA as a “parking lot” for future cable subscribers. They argue that FWA will not be able to keep pace with skyrocketing home data usage, and that today’s FWA customers will eventually churn to the cable networks of tomorrow to remain connected.

    Nonetheless, the mood here at MWC Vegas – the first GSMA show in Nevada following years of North American MWC shows in Los Angeles – is relatively buoyant. After all, 5G has officially created a big, new line of business beyond smartphones.

    And now, MWC discussions have begun focusing on what might be next.

    An ongoing search

    “There’s a very good chance that we don’t know what the killer app for 5G is,” said David Christopher, EVP of business development and strategic alliances at AT&T, during his keynote appearance.

    Analyst Roger Entner of Recon Analytics agreed. “We’re at the very beginning of our voyage here.”

    AT&T’s Christopher pointed to a handful of market sectors where 5G might make an impact in the coming years, including the Internet of things and the digital divide. But he focused much of his comments on the role that 5G could play in city operations and logistics.

    In speaking with Christopher, Entner said one of the most compelling smart city applications comes from Denver, where city planners have set up a system to dynamically route traffic away from schoolyards during recess, in order to improve air quality for children.

    AT&T isn’t the only company making noise about 5G and smart cities. Indeed, NTT at the MWC show here announced that it is helping to launch a massive private 5G network for the City of Las Vegas. Once deployed, it will “be the largest open, municipal network CBRS deployment in the US,” according to Shahid Ahmed, EVP New Ventures & Innovation for NTT.

    But other big 5G players have their own ideas about what might be the “next big thing” in 5G. For example, Verizon during its keynote appearance announced that it would supply 5G connections to an Android video game device from Razer. The gadget – to be officially unveiled next month – allows gamers to play games downloaded locally or those accessed directly from the cloud. The carrier’s message is simple: Only the speeds and latency of Verizon’s 5G network can support cloud gaming services.

    Meanwhile, T-Mobile officials argued that enterprises represent the next big opportunity for 5G. “Businesses can take their entire operations online,” said Callie Field, president of T-Mobile’s Business Group, during her own MWC keynote appearance. Field is the executive in charge of meeting T-Mobile’s previously stated goal of doubling its share of the enterprise market from around 10% today to 20% by 2025. “We are ready to untether American businesses,” she said.

    In pursuit of the goal, T-Mobile this week announced that its new 5G Advanced Network Solutions effort will now build industry-specific solutions for retail, manufacturing, logistics and smart cities. Dubbed Advanced Industry Solutions, T-Mobile said the effort “simplifies the process by managing all the pieces, so customers have only one team and company to work with.”

    On to the metaverse

    Finally, some in the 5G industry are looking to the horizon for the next big use case for the industry. Michel Castaldelli, head of connectivity partnership for Meta (formerly Facebook), said the metaverse remains a major goal for the company. He suggested that today’s networks won’t be able to handle the demands of the metaverse. He said that Meta believes metaverse applications will require 25 Mbit/s speeds and latency of around 25 milliseconds. He said only 20% of networks globally can handle such requirements.

    That may be music to the ears of some vendors.

    “We’re a very long way from designing networks like that, a very long way,” said Ericsson CTO Mike Murphy. He said Ericsson typically designs mobile networks to offer 10 Mbit/s speeds at the edge of the cell, and that metaverse services will require that figure to rise to 100 Mbit/s. Ericsson, of course, sells the equipment that can support such increases.

    Thus, it remains unclear whether smart cities, cloud gaming, the metaverse or some other service will rise as the next big use case for 5G. Undoubtedly it will remain a topic of some debate at future MWC shows, including the upcoming one in Barcelona in February of next year.

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