Smaller operators concentrate on getting 5G-ready with more LTE

Even though a lot of smaller wireless operators are still rolling out LTE and VoLTE, they’re every bit as interested in getting ready for 5G as some of the larger carriers.

That’s why, in part, they’re trying to persuade the FCC to revisit the AT&T acquisition of FiberTower licenses and Verizon’s acquisition of Straight Path’s millimeter wave licenses. The Competitive Carriers Association (CCA), which convenes for a conference in Las Vegas this week, has been pushing against Verizon’s purchase of Straight Path and AT&T’s purchase of FiberTower’s millimeter wave spectrum licenses for much of the past year.

But the association, which represents pretty much all the carriers smaller than Verizon and AT&T, has accelerated its efforts in recent months, arguing that the transactions would essentially allocate 80% of the MHz-POPs in the 28 GHz and 39 GHz bands to the nation’s two largest carriers.

RELATED: Verizon facing more opposition to Straight Path spectrum purchase

“We believe the licenses were essentially abandoned because they didn’t meet the buildout rules. That’s a real concern,” said CCA President and CEO Steve Berry. “What they’re doing is giving the largest carriers a real market advantage by getting to the millimeter wave spectrum deployment scenarios before anyone else can.”

FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr visited CCA member company Shentel in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia earlier this month to see both the progress and challenges that face carriers in rural areas. Carr was designated as the agency's lead on wireless infrastructure deployment and was instrumental in getting last week’s siting policies through the commission, which voted 3-2 on Thursday to OK new procedures designed to make the siting of small cells less costly and complicated.

RELATED: CTIA, CCA cheer FCC decision to tweak rules in favor of 5G infrastructure siting

Another CCA member, C Spire, a regional carrier based in Ridgeland, Miss., continues to conduct 5G technology trials using spectrum in the 28 GHz and 60 GHz ranges and last month invited Carr to witness a test using Cohere Technologies’ 5G turboConnect fixed wireless access solution at 3.65 GHz, which is said to provide better 5G coverage inside buildings and in rural areas.  

CCA sees 3.5 GHz, also known as the Citizens Broadband Radio Services (CBRS) band, as a great opportunity because of its propagation characteristics and accessibility to affordable equipment.

The CCA membership has at times been quite far apart in terms of the type of rules they’d like to see in the band—the FCC currently is reviewing the rules—as the larger players want broader licensed areas and smaller operators have pushed for census tract-based licenses.

CCA has urged the commission to explore all possible means to resolve the pending 3.5 GHz Notice of Proposed Rulemaking in a way that puts more mid- and high-band spectrum into the hands of competitive carriers to deploy next generation 5G and wireless services.

Berry said if they can figure out the classes of licenses and make sure the licensed areas are properly sized, that spells opportunity. “It’s been a real challenge for engineers of every stripe, but we think that’s one area where we can get devices and have deployment scenarios very quickly,” he said.