ExteNet Systems is deploying a Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) network on the 3.5 GHz band for Mile High Networks, a fixed wireless broadband internet service provider that serves all of Yavapai County, Arizona. The commercial CBRS network is anticipated to be available for customers beginning Q4 2019.
The Mile High CBRS system is part of the FCC’s initial commercial deployment, which is a transitional phase as the FCC checks out the spectrum access system (SAS) providers. The deployment at Mile High makes sense because Arizona is a distance from the coast and won’t interfere with 3.5 GHz incumbent Naval radar. It also makes sense that ExteNet chose fixed wireless broadband internet service as its initial CBRS application, because it currently has 2,000 CBRS-ready wireless internet service provider sites in its portfolio.
“We are doing initial deployments in verticals, such as sporting arenas and manufacturing, but those are in the early trial stages,” Tormod Larsen, ExteNet chief technology officer, said. “Not knowing how quickly the CBRS proceeding would progress at the FCC, we could not commit to those [vertical] customers. In fixed wireless, we could, because we could use Part 90 licensing initially and then migrate them to CBRS when it was available.”
Mile High, which was operating on 50 megahertz of spectrum in the 3.65 GHz band, now will have access to 150 megahertz of spectrum at 3.5 GHz, tripling their available spectrum. As part of the switch over, Mile High employs SAS service from Federated Wireless.
“Besides time-to-market, CBRS delivers much-needed network capacity, speed and bandwidth to serve outdoor and indoor needs for our rural customers,” said Jason Osborne, VP of strategic solutions at ExteNet Systems.
From a business case standpoint, fixed wireless will also be the easiest market to penetrate with CBRS from a number of perspectives, according to Larsen. With additional bandwidth, the fixed wireless broadband internet service provider can either get additional revenue from customers or get additional subsidies from the federal government.
“Fixed wireless provision is an established business model,” he said. “With the additional bandwidth, the provider can add customers or increase the speeds of the existing customers.” With private LTE, on the other hand, it may be more complicated to discern the value proposition.
Nathan Fillmore, CEO at Mile High Networks, said the CBRS spectrum lowers the cost of ownership of the fixed wireless network for his company.
“This deployment will allow us to deliver reliable, high-speed internet that rivals network performances in metro areas,” he said. “We are expecting our customers to have the confidence in our network performance to work on high-bandwidth applications, whether from home or at work or for reliable HD voice and VoIP calls.”
There is still more work to be done on the CBRS initial commercial deployment. All of Mile High’s base stations need to be updated to CBRS, going from Part 90 to Part 96, and made to communicate with the SAS. And each installation must be re-certified.
“There are a lot of details behind the scenes,” Larsen said. “We are on a learning curve, especially communicating with the SAS.”
CBRS is more complex than the traditional, static spectrum allocation scheme. Because the spectrum is shared, the broadband fixed wireless user might not have the same channels one day to the next. The fixed wireless networks previously did not have handoff, but now that has changed. With CBRS, the network can use another tower, in case one tower goes down.
“It changes how you think about designing a network, but also how you configure it,” Larsen said. “You need spectrum access system (SAS) to change the network from a static mentality to a dynamic mentality.”
Ever since the carriers pulled back on deploying additional DAS networks, the in-building wireless industry has been trying to break into the market for enterprises that occupy between 100,000 square feet and 500,000 square feet of space, known as the “middleprise.”
Much progress has been made. Measures have been undertaken to make these systems less expensive, less intrusive and quicker to deploy. Yet the growth expected in in-building wireless (IBW) systems has remained elusive, perhaps until now.
Yet the growth expected in IBW has remained elusive, perhaps until now.
The Citizens Broadband Radio Service at 3.5 GHz could prove to be a great enabler of private LTE systems, which give enterprises something they crave: control. Parallel to the evolution of DAS, quantum leaps have occurred in the area of evolved packet cores, the critical control element of the mobile network that enables the user’s connectivity. Instead of depending on the carriers’ cores, today an enterprise can have a dedicated core on the premises or use one in the cloud providing much of the same functionality as the traditional carriers’ core, but for a fraction of the cost and operational complexity.
I have wondered whether a company could provide service to enough in-building venues to become known as a niche wireless carrier. Is Boingo Wireless a carrier? It is, if you count its Wi-Fi subscribers. Otherwise, leasing indoor wireless infrastructure to an enterprise just makes a firm similar to a tower company.
Then I learned about Geoverse, which is owned by ATNI, a company that owns and operates mobile, fixed and cable television (CATV) providers in Latin America, the Caribbean and the United States. As a result of this relationship, Geoverse can leverage ATNI’s existing roaming agreements with licensed major carriers for its private LTE solutions. In addition, Geoverse’s blockchain transaction platform, known as GeoTrade, presents an opportunity for monetizing the roaming agreements between the public carrier networks and the in-building private LTE network. Geoverse has a relationship with Ruckus Networks and, eventually, will add every major indoor OEM.
Another company involved in monetizing the CBRS spectrum, Syniverse, has teamed with Ruckus Networks and Federated Wireless to develop private, high-speed and secure wireless networks. Syniverse provides the LTE core network, Ruckus Networks provides the LTE access points for the radio network, and Federated Wireless monitors and manages the spectrum.
The key to monetizing these private networks is a blockchain ledger-based billing and settlement system that allows operators manage the logging, clearing and settlement process for the commercial exchanges between parties.
The final piece of the puzzle is the availability of spectrum in the CBRS band, which uses general access licenses to quickly get frequencies into the hands of the enterprises at no cost. If you take access to frequencies, add control over the evolved packet core and the ability to monetize the system, you may just be looking at the future of enterprise in-building wireless.
I am no one to forecast how companies will attack the marketplace, but I have noticed a couple of interesting personnel changes. ExteNet, which has 2,000 CBRS-ready systems in place and can provide its own core, hired Jim Hyde, a man with a rich history on the carrier side (Western Wireless, T-Mobile UK, Ntelos). And then there is Stephen Bye, with more than 27 years of experience with wireless, cable and wireline service providers, who left C Spire to join another CBRS player, Connectivity Wireless Solutions.
Will ExteNet, Connectivity Wireless, Geoverse or Syniverse or some other company become a niche wireless carrier catering to the areas inside of buildings, while the major carriers cover the space outdoors? The market will decide, but the ingredients are there.
ExteNet Systems has joined the Safer Buildings Coalition (SBC) to help set standards for in-building public safety wireless communications. The SBC’s primary mission is to ensure that First Responders (Fire, Law Enforcement and EMS) use state-of-the-art voice and data communications to communicate both inside buildings as well as to-and-from their Command Centers outside buildings during an event. SBC also advocates for the public’s cellular service inside buildings to function at optimal levels.
“ExteNet’s membership into the SBC comes as they are proactively looking to bring together commercial real estate (CRE) industry forces to help determine standards for in-building wireless,” stated Gregory Spraetz, SVP & GM of the Enterprise Network Solutions Business Unit at ExteNet Systems. “Our goal is to bring the neutral-host network operator focus to the coalition and help the SBC establish consistency in the standards nationwide.”
As ExteNet Systems looks toward expanding its footprint in the in-building wireless space, membership in the SBC highlights a continued commitment and expertise in preparing CRE for public-safety wireless communications.
“While building owners and managers look to prepare for the future of 5G, the immediate consideration of building for public safety should be of utmost concern,” said Ross Manire, President and CEO for ExteNet Systems. “According to the FCC, greater than 70 percent of calls to 911 centers come from wireless phones. For buildings to meet in-building communication safety codes, a seamless management of communications infrastructure isn’t just a nice-to-have but an absolutely vital need.”
ExteNet kicked off its membership with the Safer Building Coalition in Dallas in June 2018 at an Arden Media led industry event which emphasized the importance of cross-industry cooperation for in-building public safety nationwide. Featured speakers included Billy Rowland, Chief Engineer of the Bank of America Plaza; Tim Danz, Chief Engineer of 345 California; Ken Grantham of the Highland Park (TX) Fire Department and Ken Rehbehn, Principal Analyst at Critical Communications besides ExteNet executives.
Last week ExteNet Systems announced that it has deployed a Part 96-ready fixed wireless LTE-based network for Peak Internet, which provides broadband internet services to residential, small business, enterprise and government customers in Colorado Springs and Pike’s Peak.
ExteNet deployed a software-based distributed evolved packet core (EPC) with Nokia’s Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS)-ready LTE radios on the premises of Peak Internet to enable the service over the licensed 3.65 GHz band with a future, software-only upgrade path to the 3.5 GHz CBRS band. The deployment includes a will support future mobile roaming services for Tier 1 providers.
It is not ExteNet’s first foray into fixed wireless. Last September, it announced a similar deployment with a Cal.net, which provides broadband Internet services to rural communities in the Sierra Nevada foothills ranging from the northeast to the southeast of Sacramento.
In the past WISPs had to depend on WiMAX, Wi-Fi and some other proprietary wireless technologies, operating in the Part 90 spectrum. But things are changing for these mostly small, rural operators as LTE becomes more pervasive and affordable.
Five or six years ago, ExteNet, which is known for distributed antenna systems and distributed network systems, began mapping out what would be the next area of growth beyond the booms in wireless coverage and capacity. The next phase would be functionality, they decided.
“We needed typical core functionality to be distributed closer to the edge of the network,” said Tormod Larsen, ExteNet chief technology officer. “It couldn’t be based on expensive proprietary hardware, so we found a partner to develop a flexible software-based solution that resides on standard hardware platforms. We went to the rural markets with this scalable, software-driven effective packet core to enable WISPs and other operators to develop their LTE networks.” Additionally, a radio access network (RAN) vendor neutral approach was chosen, allowing the customer to choose its preferred RAN vendor.
ExteNet is making LTE more affordable by offering it on an infrastructure-as-a-service basis, distributing intelligence and control to the internet at the edge of the network and not in a carrier’s centralized core. ExteNet typically partners with the operator and offers them an economical avenue to purchase the EPC and the RAN equipment as an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) solution.
“The management platforms for Ericsson and Nokia can be expensive,” Larsen said. “ExteNet invests in the technology and requires long-term agreements from its customers. We spread the cost over multiple customers.”
ExteNet Systems Partners with Illinois Valley Cellular to Enable 4G LTE Connectivity
ExteNet’s game plan goes well beyond wireless internet service providers to bring enhanced broadband wireless connectivity to rural cellular carriers and building owners. Last October, the ExteNet announced a partnership with Illinois Valley Cellular (IVC) to enable 4G LTE broadband connectivity for north central Illinois.
ExteNet’s localized packet core served as a replacement to IVC’s hosted core approach, which greatly reduced backhaul costs and reduced latency by up to 75 percent. Additionally, it will eventually support mobile roaming services for Tier 1 providers while being 5G ready.
“Our combined EPC with our small cell and distributed network technology will help rural carriers compete with the tier-one carriers from a cost perspective,” Larsen said.
In the future, Larsen thinks the IaaS business model the virtual EPC will allow ExteNet to market CBRS private LTE systems to building owners in-building wireless systems or municipalities for IoT applications.
J. Sharpe Smith
J. Sharpe Smith joined AGL in 2007 as contributing editor to the magazine and as editor of eDigest email newsletter. He has 27 years of experience writing about industrial communications, paging, cellular, small cells, DAS and towers. Previously, he worked for the Enterprise Wireless Alliance as editor of the Enterprise Wireless Magazine. Before that, he edited the Wireless Journal for CTIA and he began his wireless journalism career with Phillips Publishing, now Access Intelligence.
ExteNet Systems has completed its acquisition of Axiom Fiber Networks. Terms of the agreement were not disclosed.
Axiom’s high-bandwidth fiber will be accretive to ExteNet’s existing purpose-built fiber in Manhattan. Overlaying Axiom’s newly-built and high strand count fiber to its fiber plant positions ExteNet well to address the increasing densification, bandwidth and communication needs throughout New York City.
“Our customers, including service providers, building owners, municipalities and enterprises require scalable, reliable, secure and high-bandwidth network solutions,” said Ross Manire, President and CEO for ExteNet Systems. “ExteNet has an expansive fiber network in New York City, serving outdoor and in-building customers. This acquisition of Axiom Fiber Networks allows us to extend and densify our service footprint in lower Manhattan for the benefit of our customers. I would like to welcome Axiom customers, and employees, to the ExteNet family.”
ExteNet will undertake responsibilities of all existing Axiom customers. Axiom CEO Felipe J. Alvarez will join ExteNet’s management team.