CenturyLink seeks FCC permission to test 3.4 GHz wireless spectrum

CenturyLink is seeking the FCC’s approval to conduct trials of 3.4 to 3.7 GHz fixed wireless spectrum bands as a likely way to extend broadband to hard-to-reach rural areas where it can't extend wireline facilities.

While the telco did not provide any specific details, it revealed in an FCC filing that it wants to see how it could use these wireless bands to provide broadband services.

“In its experimental license application, CenturyLink seeks a license to conduct fixed testing in the 3.54 GHz to 3.70 GHz frequency band,” CenturyLink said in the filing. “The testing seeks to understand the viability of new technologies in this band that may be useful in providing fixed broadband services.”

RELATED: Frontier confirms tests of fixed wireless to enhance rural broadband coverage

The service provider asked in its application for the experimental license to be granted confidential treatment.  

“CenturyLink seeks confidential treatment for the Exhibit on the basis that it contains confidential commercial information, technical data and trade secrets concerning CenturyLink services under development and related testing processes, all of which CenturyLink customarily guards from public disclosure,” CenturyLink said.

Besides the 3.4-3.7 GHz bands, CenturyLink is looking at how it could work with other providers rolling out future 5G wireless networks.

Glen Post, CEO of CenturyLink, told investors during the Goldman Sachs Communacopia Conference in September that it would be open to such partnerships to accelerate the speed at which it is rolling out service to rural areas under the CAF-II program.  

“On the wireless side, we want to partner with 5G providers and other wireless providers where we can bring higher speeds to customers at less costs,” Post said. “If some of the proposed wireless build-outs occur in the CAF-II areas we cover, we think it will be a lower-cost opportunity to reach those customers and cover higher speeds for a lot more customers with that type of technology.”  

CenturyLink is hardly alone in its desire to use broadband wireless to accelerate rural broadband expansion. Fellow rural-centric providers Frontier, Consolidated and Windstream are seeing similar potential.

Frontier, for one, confirmed it was conducting tests of how it can use fixed wireless to address the broadband availability problem in very rural areas via the FCC’s CAF-II funds.

Consolidated and Windstream also see value in using broadband wireless.

Frontier joined Consolidated and Windstream in a joint FCC filing (PDF) related to a request to create flexible use of spectrum bands between 3.7 and 24 GHz.

Consolidated and Windstream also expressed interest in being able to use 3.7-4.2 GHz band spectrum for rural fixed point-to-multipoint deployments, such as through the rules proposed by the Broadband Access Coalition.

The service providers said that these spectrum bands would “provide another key tool in the toolbox to reach the hardest to serve rural Americans.”