Another major cable operator ditches fiber for fixed wireless on rural build-outs

Midco, a midtier cable operator with around 385,000 customers across South Dakota, North Dakota, Minnesota, Kansas and Wisconsin, is getting into the fixed wireless game. It’s the latest cable operator to decide that wireless technology is cheaper and easier to deploy than fiber in rural and other hard-to-reach areas.

Perhaps most interestingly, a top executive from the company is using Midco’s fixed wireless service at his own rural farmstead in North Dakota because the company’s wired services haven’t been deployed there. “On a normal day, my three kids are streaming video or other content, while my wife is using the internet to run a small business, so this service has been a great asset for our family,” said Justin Forde, Midco’s director of government relations.

Midco acquired Minnesota-based fixed wireless provider InvisiMax in February after partnering with the company to deploy wireless services in Brooktree Park, North Dakota. Forde said that Midco is now expanding that fixed wireless service more broadly in the rural areas within the operator’s footprint

“Currently, Midco fixed wireless provides internet connectivity at speeds up to 50 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload and higher, depending on customer need. Data travels over our fiber network to a tower fed by our fiber, called a ‘fiber backhaul tower,’ and then the signal is broadcast from tower to tower and ultimately to the customer using spectrum. Fixed wireless allows us to reach remote, rural areas that are up to 50 miles away from our fiber network, and we can implement this solution relatively quickly and without the effort or expense of constructing fiber networks,” Midco’s Forde explained in testimony recently at House of Representatives hearing on rural broadband.

“We can also deploy new fixed wireless networks during the winter months, when harsh weather makes fiber construction impossible,” Forde continued in his testimony. “Fixed wireless allows Midco to offer internet where the terrain makes it difficult, if not impossible, to provide fiber internet connectivity, such as through the Badlands of North Dakota and South Dakota, the granite fields in Northern Minnesota, or the limestone cliffs in Eastern Minnesota. This technology also allows Midco to reach vast areas of farmland where it is not economically feasible to run fiber to every farm, because there may be many miles between each farm.”

Midco executives declined to provide additional details on Midco’s fixed wireless efforts, including what spectrum the company uses and its build-out plans.

In his testimony, Forde urged legislators at the hearing to release additional spectrum for fixed wireless services including in the 3.5 GHz, 2.5 GHz and 3.7-4.2 GHz bands.

Of course, Midco—which was founded in 1931 and first started providing cable internet services in 1996—isn’t the only veteran of the telecom industry to begin moving toward fixed wireless technology. Charter, Comcast, AT&T, Windstream and C Spire are among the companies that are either testing or deploying various flavors of fixed wireless services.

Moreover, many in the industry believe this trend could accelerate as 5G technology becomes widely available. The technology promises to provide even faster speeds than today’s wireless networks. Already, Sprint and T-Mobile have promised to deploy 5G-based fixed wireless, in-home internet services to roughly 9.5 million American households by 2024, or about 13% of the country, if their merger transaction is approved.