Wireless Tower

Illinois Electric Cooperative (IEC) said it will use funding received through the Connect America Fund II (CAF II) auction to deploy fixed wireless in rural Pike County.

IEC will use technology from Ericsson and Xtreme LTE for the deployment, which will use the CBRS spectrum. The companies did not indicate whether the spectrum to be used is in the licensed or unlicensed portion of the band.

Fixed wireless technology has made big gains in recent years, and both LTE and CBRS spectrum were key developments to boost speeds and performance. Because LTE has been widely used by mobile providers, it offers economies of scale that didn’t exist with earlier generation fixed wireless. And the CBRS band includes a broad swath of mid-band spectrum, which is seen as providing the optimum mixture of speeds and coverage.

The CBRS band may be particularly well suited for rural deployments because the unlicensed portion of the band is likely to be less crowded in rural areas. Service providers also are allowed to use portions of the band that are licensed to another provider if that provider is not using the band, which sometimes happens in rural portions of the license area.

Illinois Electric Cooperative Fixed Wireless

The CAF II auction awarded funding to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband to unserved areas, with funding going to the company that committed to deploying service in an area for the lowest level of support. A weighting system favored bids to provide higher-speed, lower latency service. IEC’s win was in the “above baseline” category, which requires the company to deploy service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream.

The CAF II auction was a precursor to the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, which occurred several years later and awarded considerably more funding, also using a weighting system. More than three quarters (85%) of winning bids in that auction were for companies planning to deploy gigabit service – a big jump from the CAF II auction, when only 19% of winning bids were for gigabit speeds.

Electric companies were big winners in both auctions, with many of them planning to deploy fiber broadband to support gigabit speeds. IEC’s decision to use fixed wireless might seem a bit unusual, but a press release about the Illinois Electric Cooperative fixed wireless deployment offers a hint of why the company may have made that choice.

In the press release, IEC Network Operations Manager Matt Haverfield notes that the technology will enable the company to create private networks.

Although he didn’t provide details about how the private networks would be used, a likely option is that they would support precision agriculture – an application generally supported by wireless technology to enable connectivity to moving farm equipment across a farm’s entire coverage area.

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