Charter Customer GuaranteeSamsung said today that it has been conducting field testing of 4G LTE and 5G wireless technology with Charter Communications in trials that will run until the end of the year. The Samsung/ Charter 5G trials illustrate how a company such as Charter with little or no wireless spectrum, but with extensive fiber resources, might play in the wireless market.

The trials will “provide Charter better insight into how our advanced, powered, high speed network – which currently passes 49 million homes and businesses – can be used to enable 5G services,” noted Craig Cowden, senior vice president of wireless technology at Charter, in a press release about the trials.

Cowden also noted that Charter plans to launch a wireless service in 2018 under the company’s Spectrum brand.

Charter is expected to resell Verizon’s wireless network to support that service using a mobile virtual network operator (MVNO) strategy. It’s likely that the offering also may rely heavily on WiFi where WiFi connectivity is available from Charter’s own infrastructure or that of another cable company.

The Samsung/ Charter trials are being conducted at “various locations in the U.S.,” according to today’s press release about the trials.

Samsung/ Charter 5G, LTE Trials
The Samsung/ Charter LTE trials are using 3.5 GHz (CBRS) spectrum to support small cells for mobile service. The 5G trials are using 28 GHz spectrum which, according to a Samsung spokesperson, is “leased from the FCC,” to support fixed deployments.

Today’s press release notes that the Samsung outdoor small cells used in the LTE trials provide “a compact base station that is ideal to hang on Charter’s extensive cable strand asset,” which raises an interesting question: What if Charter were to cut a deal to use the networks of one or more wireless carriers to whom it provides small cell backhaul as part of the backhaul deal?

On the 5G side, it might seem surprising that Charter would be interested in fixed wireless, considering that the company’s cable network infrastructure can support comparatively high speeds and, unlike the telcos in some markets, the cablecos generally can get faster speeds over their existing infrastructure than they could get over fixed wireless. It’s likely, though, that Charter tested fixed 5G not because the company plans to offer fixed 5G service but because there, too, the company is likely to find backhaul opportunities — and 5G is expected to be deployed initially in a fixed configuration.

Two trends are driving the wireless industry toward a denser cellular infrastructure – including increased demand for small cells to increase capacity in high-traffic areas and the expectation that 5G will be deployed in high-frequency spectrum brands, thereby supporting higher bandwidth but over relatively short distances. As these trends converge, some industry observers see dense fiber assets such as Charter’s becoming increasingly valuable – and Charter clearly seems to be exploring that possibility.