fixed wireless tower climber

Some wireless internet providers (WISPs) are seeing fixed wireless speeds of at least 100 Mbps in rural areas over distances as great as six miles using CBRS spectrum. Of two WISPs on a webcast with press and analysts today, Watch Communications – a WISP operating in several midwestern states – is seeing the greatest CBRS range.

The company sees 100 Mbps speeds “as far as six miles very reliably,” said Chris Daniels, Watch Communications CEO.

Amplex Internet, a WISP serving rural areas of Ohio, is seeing coverage over distances between two and four miles where a clear line of sight is available, according to Mark Radabaugh, Amplex president and founder.

According to Daniels, CBRS range will be a game changer. In rural America, he said, a six-mile area might have 100 potential customers that could be served from a single base station site – a substantial improvement over previous fixed wireless options that have less range and therefore would require more base stations to serve the same number of people.

Previously Watch relied primarily on 5 GHz spectrum, which is unlicensed and therefore, has less predictable performance because performance depends on how many others are also using the spectrum in an area. Watch and Amplex both won licenses in the recent CBRS spectrum auction, which according to Daniels, means they will be able to “expand more confidently” – in part because they control spectrum and in part because of improved performance.

The ability to expand confidently is a key concern for Watch, which won $52 million in the 2018 Connect America Fund CAF II auction to bring broadband to 24,000 locations where broadband wasn’t already available.

CBRS Range
In addition to using their licensed spectrum, Watch and Amplex also will be able to use other spectrum in the CBRS band on a general authorized access (GAA) basis. GAA spectrum includes about half of the CBRS band, as well as any unlicensed spectrum that isn’t in use.

Using spectrum on a GAA basis doesn’t require a license but does require the use of a spectrum access system (SAS), which assigns available spectrum in an area equally between all GAA users. The GAA option enabled Watch to minimize its investment in licensed spectrum, Daniels said.

“We went in looking for 50 to 75% of the spectrum we need [because] we were counting on the fact that we would be able to get some GAA spectrum everywhere we go,” he observed.

Daniels and Radabaugh both said they mount CBRS access points at heights of 200 to 250 feet and according to Radabaugh, that’s the same height used for a traditional macrocell for a cellular carrier. Both Watch and Amplex generally mount customer antennas at a height of 20 to 30 feet – although Daniels added that Watch will go as low as 15 feet in some cases.

The CBRS band is expected to support a range of use cases, including mobile and private networks. But according to Matt Mangriotis, director of product management for CBRS equipment manufacturer Cambium Networks, the “first mover” and “primary mover” CBRS use case is fixed wireless.

The virtual briefing with the CBRS stakeholders was organized by SAS provider Federated Wireless.

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