Resound trades fiber for fixed wireless for a chunk of its RDOF builds

After a year of trialing gigabit-class fixed wireless access technology from Tarana Wireless, Resound Networks has decided to deploy that service to around 12,000 locations it was originally planning to cover with fiber as part of its Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF)-fueled expansion.

Resound Networks was one of the top 10 winners in the RDOF auction, walking away with $310.7 million in government funding to cover around 219,000 unserved locations with broadband. While it was originally planning to service around 77,000 of those with fiber, CEO Tyson Curtis told Fierce it now expects to use Tarana’s G1 fixed wireless solution instead for about 15% of those. That’ll allow it to move faster in providing connectivity to users who currently have few or no options and can’t participate in the digital economy today, he said.

“What Tarana’s allowed us to do is we’re delivering gigabit speed with their product out to five miles from our tower site, so it gives us an enormous amount of coverage,” Curtis explained. “The speed of deployment and the cost of deployment with the fixed wireless versus our fiber projects is very significant. I mean we can deploy the fixed wireless literally in a week or two, call it 10 days time, and cover the same area that it takes us six months to do in fiber-to-the-home.”

He added that six-month timeframe is generous, and only includes the physical installation of a fiber network. When permitting and other prep work is factored in, fiber projects can take up to a year to complete, he said.

Though its RDOF funding has yet to be approved by the Federal Communications Commission, Curtis said it began construction on related projects in February 2021.

Operators including Comcast, Charter and Cogeco have all raised concerns about fixed wireless access, claiming it offers significantly slower performance than fixed networks and might not be viable over the long term. But Tarana’s system has demonstrated the ability to provide download speeds of up to 1 Gbps and uplink speeds of up to 500 Mbps across the full five-mile range Curtis mentioned.

Asked whether it plans to offer different service tiers to fiber versus fixed wireless customers, Curtis said it plans to offer gigabit speeds across all of its RDOF territories regardless of the technology used. Additionally, he said he’s not concerned about the long-term ability of the system – which uses unlicensed spectrum in the 3.65 GHz (CBRS), 5 GHz and 6 GHz bands – to handle future increases in bandwidth.

“If you get into the larger population centers and some of the metropolitan areas you can see some crowding, I’ll call it, in that spectrum but out in rural areas we run into little interference,” he said. “But that’s one of the things about Tarana that is their special sauce and that’s their ability to mitigate interference. So, we do not see that as a concern.”

Over the next five years, Resound plans to expand its use Tarana’s G1 system from Pampa, Texas to more markets across that state as well as Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma and New Mexico.

For its RDOF builds in Texas, Resound tapped FiberLight to provide long-haul fiber backbone services. Specifically, FiberLight built a new 100G fiber ring from Houston to Dallas to help carry data back to Resound’s data centers. Curtis said while it is initially working with FiberLight in Texas, the pair could also partner in other markets the vendor serves.

Besides its RDOF builds, Curtis said Resound is planning for organic growth to around an additional 1.5 million locations over the coming years. Around 95% of these will be covered with fixed wireless access technology, he said.

“We believe that it takes a hybrid network approach to really fulfill the needs of these different communities. Fixed wireless is not always the right answer and fiber-to-the-home is not always the right answer,” Curtis concluded. “We focus on both technologies because we see a place for both of them.”