Systems integrator CTS acquires ClearSky for private LTE

Private wireless networks can create opportunities and solve technical problems for many companies, but right now those companies are unlikely to go out into the marketplace looking for private wireless solutions. Organizations need technology to meet business objectives, and they often look to trusted systems integrators for ideas and solutions. Integrators that recognize the potential of private wireless are starting to form alliances with equipment vendors that can provide it.

Communications Technology Services, better known as CTS, is a nationwide integrator that specializes in distributed antenna systems. CTS has continued to grow even as the DAS business has slowed, and now as the company expands into private LTE it’s acquiring ClearSky Technologies, an equipment vendor that is also trying to make the move from DAS to private LTE.

CTS announced its purchase of ClearSky Technologies on January 21, saying that the acquisition will help it develop a strong foundation for the deployment of private LTE and 5G networks. ClearSky is in the process of trialing its private LTE solution, which consists of a proprietary mobile core combined with support for many leading radio vendors. The target customers are companies in the logistics, warehousing and mining industries.

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ClearSky currently provides managed services for several regional wireless carriers, and it says this capability has built skill sets that will be important to CTS. “We think we are experts in policy management, sometimes called network slicing, which will be big in private LTE,” said Rob Cerbone, a former management consultant who joined ClearSky as VP of product management last year. Going forward, Cerbone will be VP of product management and marketing at CTS.

ClearSky had fewer than 20 employees, most of whom worked in engineering and operations, and almost all of them will join CTS. ClearSky CEO Mike Roudi will lead managed services for CTS. Roudi is an adviser to Astra Capital Management, a private equity firm that owns controlling interests in both CTS and ClearSky.

For ClearSky, becoming part of CTS means the company will no longer work with other integrators. But Cerbone said the team will have “everything it needs” to go to market with CTS. “We get 300+ boots on the street that are out there building the networks … they do 1,500 designs a year,” said Cerbone, adding that CTS has already built more than 9,000 in-building/campus networks.

The acquisition by CTS is the latest chapter in ClearSky’s wireless history, which includes efforts to market fixed wireless solutions, small cell gateways, and femtocell provisioning software. More recently the company has focused on managed network services and on its Forte signal source for distributed antenna systems. 

Cerbone said DAS and private LTE could work together for larger companies that need better indoor coverage from the public network and want private network capabilities for internal or back office activities. He added that some DAS vendors are starting to add support for Band 48, the CBRS band that many companies will use for private wireless networks.

The newly available CBRS midband spectrum is largely responsible for the growing interest in private wireless. Last year the FCC auctioned 22,631 Priority Access Licenses, raising $4.5 billion. Entities that do not have Priority Access Licenses are planning deployments in the band under the General Authorized Access provision, which permits free use of the spectrum in areas where licensees and incumbent users are not active.