CBRS antenna

As stakeholders continue to debate whether the FCC should agree to release funding to some of the biggest winners in the recent Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction, one of those big winners continues to make progress on rural broadband buildouts funded in part, through a previous federal program.

Nextlink, which won $281 million in the 2018 Connect America Fund II (CAF II) auction and was the winning bidder for $429 million of funding in the RDOF auction, said yesterday that it will use antennas from Alpha Wireless for CAF II deployments of fixed wireless equipment in the CBRS band.

As a press release about the Alpha Wireless deal notes, Nextlink spent $28.4 million for priority access licenses in the CBRS auction last year to obtain spectrum that will be used, at least in part, to support the company’s CAF II buildout. The company committed to deploying service at speeds of 100 Mbps for most of its CAF II deployments.

Nextlink’s winning bids in the RDOF auction call for the company to deploy service at considerably faster gigabit speeds. The FCC allowed the company, and some other service providers, to base their gigabit bids on using a combination of fixed wireless and fiber-to-the-premises technology—a decision that has generated controversy and caused some stakeholders to question winning bids based on that approach.

Asked how Nextlink expects to meet the gigabit speed requirements, Nextlink Senior Vice President of Strategy and Regulatory Affairs Ted Osborn said in an email to Telecompetitor that “we’ll be taking a hybrid approach to our deployments with rich fiber assets to reach FTTH buildouts but assisted with PtMP and PtP [point-to-multipoint and point-to-point] wireless designs.”

Nextlink apparently gave the FCC a lot more detail than that, as the RDOF long-form application that the company was required to submit to the commission has more than 4,000 pages. The FCC must approve each winning bidder’s long-form application before funding is released to the bidder.

Long-form applications have not been released publicly, but Nextlink offered highlights of its application in an ex parte letter about a meeting that company officials had with the FCC in an effort to refute arguments that have been made against the company.

Nextlink Service Map (Source: Nextlink)

In that meeting, the Nextlink representatives noted that the company had met CAF II buildout milestones and that it was able to win bids in the RDOF auction, in part, because it bid on areas near the CAF II areas.
In his email to Telecompetitor today, Osborn noted that Nextlink has opened 23 new offices since CAF funding started July 2019. “These offices and the additional several hundred new employees and contractors work from these offices in the core states of Texas, Oklahoma, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas and Nebraska,” he said.

“Some 90% of our RDOF markets are adjacent to our CAF markets in these six states. It’s minimally more expensive for us to expand into the RDOF areas as the core and middle mile networks are being established as a result of CAF fulfillments.”

Today’s press release notes that Alpha Wireless customized the CBRS antenna solution for Nextlink. Asked for details about that, Osborn said “Alpha Wireless generated customized cables and mounting designs for us. Not really anything with the antenna in this case but rather their flexibility to accommodate our unique request.”

The press release also notes that the antennas Alpha Wireless will be supplying will work with Nokia radios in an LTE network that can be easily upgraded to 5G. Asked what advantage Nextlink would gain from a 5G upgrade, Osborn said only “More to come on 5G.”

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