Closing the Digital Divide is expensive and time-consuming. In North America, this is the gap between roughly 40 million people who live in typically unserved or underserved rural areas and small towns that do not have high-speed internet access, and those that do.
In looking at viable solutions, Private LTE can be a game changer for rural broadband.
It’s the same 4G LTE used by global carriers but on a smaller, limited scale. LTE is standards-based and delivers higher data throughout at lower latency than alternatives. Private LTE requires dedicated spectrum, a dedicated Evolved Packet Core (EPC) and dedicated user equipment (UE). This adds cost but vastly improves performance over other wireless solutions.
Consider ABC Communications (ABC) which provides internet access to residences and businesses in small towns and rural communities in the interior of the Canadian province of British Columbia (BC). ABC operates a private wireless network of 175 sites across the province, from the U.S. border to Northern BC, along with a fiber optic backbone linking over 30 cities to network operations centers (NOCs) in Vancouver and Prince George.
Since 1989, ABC has offered communication services, first with Telecom and then dialup internet in the early 1990’s. Once wireless broadband systems came into play, ABC began building large fixed wireless systems in unlicensed and licensed bands, typically, 3 GHz, 5 GHz and 900 MHz. ABC has been a leader and innovator in the deployment of Fixed WiMAX and LTE systems in Canada. The company has deployed TV White Space (470-698 MHz) radio in a trial with Redline Communications in a remote mountainous and heavily-forested area in Northern BC.
Falko Kadenbach, ABC Vice President says, “If we are offered an opportunity to deploy a new spectrum, it is up to us, ‘the industry,’ to test it and deploy it, to build the ecosystem for the manufacturers to supply us with quality products at affordable prices.”
Six years ago, ABC leveraged its partnership with Huawei to create an opportunity for ABC to deliver much greater bandwidth to its users. Utilizing its block of 50 MHz of 3.5 GHz spectrum obtained from the Canadian government, ABC bought 4G LTE radios from Huawei that also sells to Canadian cellular carriers Rogers and Telus. To defray capex, ABC leases EPC capacity to other ISPs in Canada.
“We’re able to reach 50 Mbps download speeds, meeting the Canadian government mandate of 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload speeds with LTE,” says Kadenbach. “We’re replacing most of our network with LTE systems, growing the service footprint and the ability to scale services beyond the current broadband mandates using fixed wireless services.”
“It can be expensive but we like the performance we’re getting and our end customers do too” he adds. “Right now, ABC’s offering is strictly fixed wireless with no mobility component. So we don’t need roaming agreements with the major carriers. LTE is a game changer for us. Now we have options with new LTE products on the market,” Kadenbach points out. ABC is just in the early stages of Private LTE deployments as several key drivers come into play: availability of LTE equipment as public carrier build-outs wind down, access to new spectrum for non-carrier use, and superior price/performance that appeals to commercial and industrial users.
By John Celentano, Contributing Analyst