UScellular taps Ericsson, Nokia for 5G mid-band build

This might come as absolutely no surprise, but UScellular made it official, announcing this week that it’s using gear from Ericsson and Nokia to build out its C-band and 3.45 GHz spectrum.

It’s no surprise because UScellular has been using infrastructure equipment from the industry’s two prominent European vendors for years.

“Ericsson’s technology expertise has helped us keep our customers connected for many years, and we look forward to working with them on this next evolution of our 5G network,” said UScellular CTO Mike Irizarry in a statement. “These deployments are an important step in our multi-year 5G plan to provide our customers an unmatched network experience.”

UScellular currently has low-band 5G coverage in portions of all its markets and last month launched 5G mmWave Home Internet+ service in parts of 10 cities.

The company spent over $1.28 billion on C-band spectrum and more than $579 million in the 3.45 GHz auction. The mid-band spectrum will support both mobility and fixed wireless access (FWA) services. Plans call for activating its mid-band spectrum by the end of 2023. 

According to Ericsson, its contribution includes an intelligent Antenna Integrated Radio (AIR) unit together with Ericsson’s Uplink Booster, as well as network expertise to support UScellular’s plan to build out mid-band capacity for mobile and FWA customers.

UScellular is using the latest Ericsson Radio System portfolio of C-band and 3.45 GHz equipment, as well as Ericsson’s Radio Access Network (RAN) Compute platform. Combined with carrier aggregation network solutions, it will increase coverage and capacity for UScellular’s customers.

As for Nokia, the terms of that deal call for UScellular to deploy Nokia’s massive MIMO radios, macro remote radio heads and next-generation AirScale baseband equipment in the C-Band and 3.45 GHz spectrum.

Nokia points out that its AirScale radios provide dual support for both C-Band and 3.45 GHz spectrum, offering a cost-effective deployment solution. The deployment builds on Nokia’s existing support for UScellular’s 5G standalone (SA) core network and RAN for both low-band and mmWave 5G.

“We count on Nokia to provide the 5G infrastructure that keeps our customers connected to the people and information that matters most to them, no matter where they live,” Irizarry said in a statement.

The operator also uses LTE and 5G network solutions from Samsung.

Open RAN? 

Earlier this month, UScellular President and CEO Laurent Therivel told Fierce that the company pays a lot of attention to open RAN. “I think it’s interesting in the long run in terms of supporting competition” and innovation. However, “it strikes me as a technology that is still relatively immature.”

The role of a carrier traditionally has not been as systems integrator. Traditionally, they work with an Ericsson, Nokia and/or Samsung. If something goes wrong, they know who to go to.

He said UScellular is watching what Dish is doing with a lot of interest. “I’m skeptical about the customer experience,” he said, adding, however, that the team over there has a lot of technological experience. “It will be interesting to see if they’re able to deliver the kind of experience that our customers at least are used to.”