Midco may be best known as a cable company serving tier two and tier three markets that also provides broadband service using hybrid fiber coax/ DOCSIS architecture and technology. But since acquiring wireless internet service provider InvisiMax last year, Midco has added a strong focus on fixed wireless broadband.
InvisiMax had about 4,000 customers in a serving area that included parts of North Dakota and Minnesota. That serving area overlapped about 10% of Midco’s territory, which also includes parts of South Dakota, Kansas and Wisconsin.
“They were a successful company and it was a good acquisition for us,” said Midco Chief Technology Officer Jon Pederson in an interview with us.
Since the acquisition, Midco has deployed fixed wireless to areas surrounding the company’s cable/DOCSIS service areas in other states – areas that Pederson calls “the donut of discontent.”
According to Pederson, “there is always a group of folks ten miles out of town that realize what they’re not getting, and fixed service allows us to serve those folks.”
Midco’s expansion plans are expected to get a further boost moving forward, as the company provisionally won $38.9 million in the recent Connect America Fund CAF II auction. That auction awarded funding to bidders that offered to deploy broadband to high-cost unserved areas for the lowest level of government support.
Midco agreed to use the funding to bring fixed wireless service at speeds of at least 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream to portions of three states.
Midco Fixed Wireless
Midco currently serves residential customers with a point-to-multipoint fixed wireless service deployed in the 3.65 GHz band, which has been available for unlicensed use for some years. Pederson said the service supports speeds of up to 50 Mbps downstream and 10 Mbps upstream over distances of up to seven miles. But moving forward, Midco expects to support higher speeds.
The 3.65 GHz band will soon be absorbed into the CBRS band, which will include a 150 MHz swath of spectrum between 3550 and 3700 MHz that will be made available for use by communications service providers. A portion of the CBRS band will be auctioned and a portion of it will be available for unlicensed use.
The upshot is that wireless ISPs such as Midco that already have experience with the 3.65 GHz band are in a good position to boost the bandwidth they can provide when the full CBRS band becomes available for their use.
Midco expects to be a bidder in the upcoming CBRS auction, but even if the company doesn’t win spectrum in the auction, it would still be able to use the unlicensed portion of the band, and that alone should help increase the speeds Midco fixed wireless can support.
Pederson sees the CBRS band as the “Goldilocks” band.
Just as Goldilocks looked for porridge that was neither too hot nor too cold, network operators look for spectrum that offers the optimum mixture of speed and propagation and, as Pederson explained, “it’s always a tradeoff between those two.”
In acquiring InvisiMax, Midco was able to improve on the InvisiMax cost structure, Pederson noted.
“One reason we were well aware of them was they were a good customer; they got internet backhaul from us” he recalled. In acquiring InvisiMax, he explained, “we were able to reduce cost right away since we were their primary provider.”
As Midco continues to expand fixed wireless service outside population centers that it already serves, the company also has found an excellent way of gauging where it should extend wireline gigabit service. If fixed wireless take rates are high enough in an area, it’s an indication that the area may be able to generate enough revenue from a wireline offering to make it worthwhile for the company to undertake a wireline deployment there.
Fixed wireless also may be a particularly good fit for the northern Midwestern states that are Midco’s focus and where the ground freezes solid during winter months, making it difficult or even impossible to deploy wireline service.
“If a customer really wants service and it’s the middle of winter, wireless can get you there quickly,” Pederson observed.