Nextlink Internet, which was one of the biggest winning bidders in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, said it has achieved speeds of 1 Gbps downstream and 500 Mbps upstream using fixed wireless equipment in the 6 GHz band.
The performance was achieved using a 160 MHz channel over distances of two miles, the company said.
Nextlink and some other large RDOF winning bidders tentatively won funding to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband at 1 Gbps/ 500 Mbps speeds to unserved rural areas using a combination of fixed wireless and fiber broadband but have not yet had funding released to them.
6 GHz Fixed Wireless
The FCC voted in 2020 to allow unlicensed outdoor use of 850 MHz of spectrum between 5.925 and 7.125 GHz at standard power levels on a shared basis with incumbent services, which include point-to-point microwave links and broadcast auxiliary and cable television relay licenses. (At that time, the commission also made the entire 1,200 MHz-wide spectrum band available for low-power use for applications such as Wi-Fi 6e.)
As Nextlink explains in a blog post, fixed wireless providers generally have not yet been able to use the 6 GHz spectrum at standard power levels because they are waiting for the FCC to approve the automated frequency coordination (AFC) system required for standard-power use. The purpose of the AFC is to prevent standard-power access points from operating where they could cause interference to incumbent services.
Nextlink was able to do its testing of fixed wireless technology from Cambium and Qualcomm because it obtained an experimental license from the FCC.
“We are on a mission to provide high-quality internet access everywhere we serve. This gives us another tool in the toolkit to do just that,” said Bill Baker, Founder and CEO of Nextlink Internet, in the blog post. “Upon full commercial deployment later this year, we look forward to rolling out gigabit speed plans in the entirety of our existing fixed wireless service network plus our prospective network expansion for the [RDOF] program. Ultimately, this expansion of gigabit fixed wireless will cover over four million . . . households and businesses.”
While the Nextlink 6 GHz fixed wireless tests would appear to increase the likelihood that the FCC will release the company’s RDOF funding, it’s worth noting that a test is one thing, but seeing this performance consistently on a live network for huge numbers of customers simultaneously is another.
Ironically, the Nextlink news comes just days after the NTIA issued rules for another rural broadband funding program – the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. The BEAD program has a budget of $42.5 billion, which is considerably larger than the RDOF budget, and the BEAD rules call for prioritizing fiber broadband projects over projects using other technologies, including fixed wireless.