Straight Path plots 5G strategy with fixed wireless spectrum

Straight Path, a spectrum holding company that owns bankrupt fixed wireless provider Winstar Communications' spectrum licenses in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands, is counting on the growing momentum for using millimeter-wave (mmWave) spectrum for 5G services as a boon for the company.

IDT spun off its spectrum holdings that it acquired from bankrupt Winstar into Straight Path in 2013. Straight Path holds 828 spectrum licenses in the 39 GHz band, making it the largest single holder of 39 GHz licensed spectrum in the United States. It also holds 16 LMDS A licenses and 117 B licenses in the 28 GHz band.

In an interview with FierceWirelessTech, David Jonas, Straight Path CEO, said that the company is focused on providing spectrum for point-to-multipoint connectivity for wireless Internet service providers and residential customers, which accounts for the bulk of the company's revenues.

However, Straight Path is closely watching what wireless operators are doing to densify their networks with small cells. Jonas said that as operators build out those small cells, there will be a growing need for backhaul, particularly short-range backhaul, which is a good fit for Straight Path's higher range spectrum. Jonas said that the company has aligned itself with systems integrators and backhaul firms in hopes of providing small cell backhaul using its spectrum holdings.

But Jonas believes that the most compelling business opportunity for the company's spectrum is the growing momentum around 5G. He is particularly encouraged by FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler's recent blog post outlining the FCC's plans to identify appropriate higher-frequency spectrum bands above 6 GHz that may be appropriate for 5G. Last fall, the FCC issued a Notice of Inquiry to research and discuss mmWave options above the 24 GHz band.

Jonas said Straight Path is not opposed to becoming a network provider if the conditions are right. "Right now we are focused on capabilities and what to do with our spectrum," he said. "If, and when, we decide to be a network provider, we believe we have a world class asset."

However, don't expect Straight Path to make the same mistakes as its predecessor, Winstar, which tried to be a fixed wireless broadband alternative to fiber and cable. Winstar became so laser-focused on building a nationwide footprint for its network that it failed to secure enough customers to support that buildout. "We have a substantially different model," Jonas said. "We are not trying to be everywhere at once."

Interestingly, Jonas said Straight Path is not necessarily interested in selling its spectrum, although he admitted that "everything is for sale for the right price." Instead, he said the company believes that the value of its assets will grow extensively over the next 5 to 10 years.

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