Amarillo, Texas deploys $4M fixed wireless access network for school kids

The City of Amarillo, Texas, is working with Airspan to set up a $4 million fixed wireless access (FWA) network to help connect school kids to the internet. The 4G FWA network, which has achieved symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps, is being deployed to the homes of children who do not have internet access. And of course, this will benefit others who live in those households as well.

Based on the urgency of serving students, the goal is to have 50 square miles covered by the end of the 2021-2022 school year.

“The money is not coming from local tax revenue,” said Rich Gagnon, CIO with the City of Amarillo. “It’s coming from federal funds.”

The city applied for funding through the Broadband Development Office of the State of Texas via its Operation Connectivity program, which taps American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) funds.

RELATED: More broadband projects eligible for funding under new ARPA rules

The project is happening in two phases. The first phase is the initial pilot in Amarillo. And a second phase will involve working with more than 50 communities in the Texas Panhandle to connect educational institutions with the homes of school kids. The city has put in an application for funding of $100 million to cover the costs of Phase Two.

Phase One has taken about a year. At first, the city looked at the existing federal broadband maps to determine where school kids did not have access to the internet. But it found the maps to be woefully inaccurate. (As an aside, the Federal Communications Commission is working hard to improve the maps). 

Jaime Fink, VP of technology for fixed wireless at Mimosa by Airspan, said that new ARPA rules let states and municipalities designate areas they consider to be under-connected, and this was really helpful for Amarillo to target the unserved areas where it wanted to help school kids.

FWA technology

The FWA network in Amarillo uses Mimosa by Airspan radio equipment operating in the 5 GHz spectrum. The equipment includes radio transmitters mounted on seven water towers around the city. Each water tower has been fitted with eight radios. Then a radio receiver is mounted on the outside of each residence, and a router is installed inside the residence.

RELATED: Is FWA from big carriers different than FWA from WISPS?

The City of Amarillo plans to upgrade to Mimosa by Airspan’s new 6 series of Wi-Fi 6E based FWA solutions in 2022, using 6 GHz spectrum, which has been freed-up for unlicensed usage by the FCC.

RELATED: FCC prevails in 6 GHz court challenge led by AT&T

Fink said, “Getting access to 6 GHz spectrum is super important for us. 6 GHz can go out several miles in distance.”

This ability to reach further distances will be important for Phase Two of the FWA project, which, if granted, would add over 80 towers to the City of Amarillo’s network.

Gagnon said the Texas Education Agency has middle-mile fiber from Amarillo to the small communities in the surrounding Panhandle area. “They already have fiber from their headquarters to these small schools,” he said. “We can ride their fiber and then put up 6 GHz.”

Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson said the FWA initiative “will bring equitable internet services to areas that have struggled with reliable connectivity — whether these areas are in poorer, urban parts of the City of Amarillo or in the rural small towns.”