Los Angeles County chooses WeLink to serve FWA to 275,000 locations

  • L.A. County issued an RFP to close the digital divide in some low-income communities

  • WeLink, a relatively unknown fixed wireless access (FWA) provider, won the contract

  • WeLink will provide FWA to as many as 275,000 locations

A couple of years ago, Los Angeles County leaders decided they wanted to close the digital divide in some underserved areas. So, the county issued a request for proposal, soliciting bids from broadband providers. Surprisingly, WeLink, a relatively unknown fixed wireless access (FWA) provider, won the contract, beating out incumbents such as AT&T and Charter Communications.

This week L.A. County issued a press release, saying it had signed a historic public-private partnership with WeLink to bring high-speed internet to areas impacted by the digital divide. WeLink will bring FWA to as many as 275,000 households and businesses across 68 square miles in East Los Angeles/Boyle Heights and South Los Angeles.

Fierce Network spoke with Luke Langford, CEO of WeLink, who said he believes about 11 companies signed a master agreement to bid for the project, including T-Mobile, AT&T and Charter. He’s not sure how many ultimately did bid. He’s also not sure why WeLink won. But he speculates that L.A. County probably evaluated FWA along with cable and fiber technologies and gave various weights to the outcomes.

“We’re able to deliver a fiber-like experience but with economics and time-to-deploy of FWA. T-Mobile could have been wireless,” said Langford. “AT&T and Charter have their wired approaches that probably weren’t as cost effective. Charter is the cable company in this area. AT&T is the telco there.”

WeLink might also have benefited from the fact that it has already successfully deployed its technology in a low-income community — Estrada Courts.

“I think that helped us be on the radar there,” said Langford. “We engaged earlier with HACLA [the city’s housing authority]. I think probably in the margin it was helpful to say ‘We are in your community.’”

Construction is expected to begin this summer with internet service rolling out beginning in fall 2024.

Funding for the project

Langford said the process in L.A. County was a bit unusual for WeLink because it’s a public-private partnerships where the county will be contributing American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds to the project and also some monies from a California Public Utilities Commission program. He declined to say how much L.A. is contributing and how much WeLink estimates the project will cost other than to say it will cost “many tens of millions of dollars.”

Usually, WeLink just targets an area where it wants to deploy its FWA broadband, and it enters the market and starts going through the process of getting permissions and permits like any other competitive business.

WeLink could have done the same thing in L.A. But it decided to participate in the county’s RFP because the county will be contributing the ARPA and PUC funds.

“This allows us to offer subsidized pricing,” said Langford. WeLink typically offers its symmetrical broadband for $65 for 500 Mbps; $75 for 1 Gbps; and $85 for 2 Gbps. But for households qualifying for subsidized pricing, it will offer the same speed tiers for $25, $35 and $45. Prices are fixed until at least September 2027.

Every plan includes unlimited data, a Wi-Fi router and multilingual customer support without credit checks or cash deposits. 

WeLink’s technology

WeLink’s FWA technology uses mmWave spectrum at 60 GHz.

“WeLink began in 2018 with the theory that we could use fixed wireless to provide fiber-like experiences to single family homes,” said Langford. “We spent the first few years building the technology."

Some other FWA providers such as Tarana typically operate in CBRS spectrum and in the 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands. But WeLink chose unlicensed mmWave spectrum at 60 GHz because it can limit how far the signal goes and better manage interference.

“mmWave is line of sight technology,” said Langford. “You end up with small radios that allow us to deploy on street furniture and even use customer homes as part of our network,” he said. 

WeLink actually invented its own radios and outdoor router hardware and has since spun that hardware division into a sister company called Ketsen.

Langford said WeLink networks have kind of a mesh-type topology from a routing perspective. The company also developed a number of software tools needed to operationalize the technology. These products are also now part of Ketsen.