Mediacom teamed with Ericsson to expand its broadband network using fixed wireless access technology, as the operator strives to reach 500,000 new locations over the coming years.
Ericsson said in a press release Mediacom is the first major U.S. cable provider to launch a CBRS-based fixed wireless internet service using its 4G and 5G RAN equipment.
The operator debuted its Bolt fixed wireless internet product in mid-July using 3.5 GHz (CBRS) spectrum, offering speed tiers ranging from 25 Mbps download for $60 per month to 100 Mbps for $100 per month. Bolt relies on radios mounted on fiber-connected signal towers to beam wireless signals to antennas mounted on the exterior of a consumer’s home. Using its gear, Ericsson said Mediacom can deliver fixed wireless internet service up to nine miles from each tower location.
Per Wahlen, VP and head of Business Development for Ericsson North America, said in a statement “this technology will be a game changer," adding it will help "quickly extend the reach of Mediacom’s broadband services and close the digital divide in numerous underserved rural areas.”
In May, Mediacom told Fierce it was aiming to bring broadband to 500,000 new locations using a combination of fiber and fixed wireless access technology. An operator representative told Fierce on Tuesday it expects roughly 60% of these will be fixed wireless locations, but added “we are anticipating a lot of broadband grant opportunities to materialize over the next few years, so this could factor into how and where we build fixed wireless versus wireline networks.”
The representative said its fixed wireless work is focused on the 178 counties where it holds CBRS spectrum, and, within those areas, on locations where towers are either already connected to or nearby its fiber network. It also looks at whether there are a sufficient number of households with speeds below 50 Mbps, “as we believe our 100 Mbps fixed wireless speeds would be an attractive alternative in those areas.” If a fiber grant opportunity exists in those same areas, “then we would also consider wireline construction as an alternative,” the representative said.
The Mediacom representative said it is also working with other vendors, but declined to name them. Last year, Mediacom requested permission from the FCC to conduct CBRS tests with Samsung.
Asked whether supply chain issues are impacting its fixed wireless or fiber work, the representative said “At the moment, we have enough equipment to keep the project moving forward.”
Mediacom is far from the only player leveraging fixed wireless technology. Verizon, AT&T and T-Mobile all offer fixed wireless internet, as does regional operator Shenandoah Telecommunications (Shentel). The latter recently told Fierce it is aiming to push its Beam internet service, which relies on a combination of CBRS and 2.5GHz spectrum, to 45,000 serviceable homes by end-2021.
Wahlen told Fierce "there is interest from multiple cable/fiber companies to explore the sweet spot for fixed wireless access where it is not financially viable to extend the existing plant but where there is still sufficient demand to extend network coverage. Add to that government subsidized initiatives such as RDOF, and we are seeing a lot of demand in the market."
A recent report from ABI Research noted the worldwide residential broadband market’s subscriber base hit 1.1 billion in 2020, and highlighted fixed wireless technology as “a cost-effective alternative when the deployment of a high-speed fixed broadband network is not economically feasible.” It predicted 5G fixed wireless access services will be the fastest-growing residential broadband segment over the coming years, exceeding 58 million subscribers or 4% of residential broadband services in 2026, up from less than 1% in 2020.
This story has been update with additional comments from Ericsson's Per Wahlen.