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As the government gets set to make an unprecedented level of funding available to cover some of the costs of bringing broadband to unserved rural areas, it may not make sense to dedicate funding only to fiber broadband, said Claude Aiken, president and CEO of the Wireless Internet Service Providers Association (WISPA), on a Broadband.Money webcast Friday. We also asked him about gigabit fixed wireless access (FWA).

Some communities could be “unserved for years until fiber gets there,” Aiken cautioned. But fixed wireless providers could deploy service supporting speeds of 100 Mbps downstream and 20 Mbps upstream “within a matter of months,” he said.

According to Aiken, the states and localities that have responsibility for awarding broadband funding have some leeway in how the money is spent and could fund fixed wireless service as an interim measure for serving communities until fiber broadband can be deployed.

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“It requires the state or locality to think about the problem in that way,” commented Aiken.

Aiken also noted that there may be some areas where it may never make sense to deploy fiber. He pointed to the example of Wyoming ranches that are 50 miles apart from one another. Even if funding were available to deploy fiber to those ranches, the cost of maintaining the fiber likely would be prohibitive, he said.

Aiken’s comments came in answer to questions asked by participants on the webcast, which was organized by Broadband.Money, an online community created to discuss broadband grant funding.

Gigabit Fixed Wireless

Telecompetitor asked Aiken how extensively gigabit FWA is being deployed.

“It’s still relatively nascent,” he said, noting that the technology requires line of sight and covers shorter distances than other FWA options.

“You see it in more densely populated areas,” such as a town with a population of a few hundred, Aiken said, also noting that tribal providers also are deploying it.

Unlike traditional FWA radios that are typically installed on grain elevators or towers, gigabit FWA radios can be installed on rooftops and act as repeaters for one another using a mesh approach.

Aiken also noted that “You will see more [gigabit FWA] as 6 GHz spectrum becomes available.” The government plans to open 850 MHz in that band for unlicensed use at standard power levels.

“That will make it a lot easier to deploy gigabit fixed wireless access,” Aiken said.

We also asked Aiken about companies that tentatively won funding in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) auction to provide gigabit speeds based on using a combination of FWA and fiber broadband. Several of the largest winning bidders plan to use this combination but have not yet had funding released to them.

Aiken noted that the FCC is closely reviewing these applications and is being more cautious in its screening of wireless ISPs because the technology has not been as widely deployed as some other types of technology that will receive RDOF funding. The commission also is looking at individual companies’ ability to properly complete the RDOF builds, he said.

The upshot, he said, is that “we anticipate if a company is a quality company, it will see funding released.”

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