Windstream peels back the curtain on its fixed wireless deployments

Windstream is in the process of deploying Radwin’s fixed wireless equipment in two states covering thousands of potential customers, and is considering expanding that effort to additional customers in additional states.

The company is using fixed wireless technology to reach customers in rural locations covered by the FCC’s CAF-II program, which helps fund the buildout of telecommunications services in hard-to-reach rural locations.

Windstream is offering a handful of speeds over its fixed wireless network, with prices starting at $50 per month for 25 Mbps speeds, ranging up to $70 per month for 100 Mbps speeds. The service does not have a monthly usage cap.

“It’s really a value equation,” explained Jeff Small, president of Windstream’s consumer and small- and medium-sized business operations. He said the telecom carrier continues to deploy technologies ranging from fiber to DSLAM to fixed wireless in order to reach new customers, depending on the characteristics and requirements of the location. He said Windstream is using fixed wireless in part because it’s a cheap way to reach the rural areas covered by the FCC’s CAF-II subsidies.

“We’re in the early stages of using fixed wireless technology,” Small said, adding that “we see the technology in this space improving.”

Related: Editor’s Corner—Fixed wireless is a big deal. Here’s why

Brent Williams, Windstream’s VP of outside plant engineering, offered additional insights into Windstream’s two fixed wireless markets. He said the company has deployed Radwin’s proprietary, 802.11-based wireless technology to roughly 9,000 households in Poteau, Oklahoma. And in Argyle, Iowa, the company currently covers around 200 households with the service, with plans to expand that to an additional 34 communities in Iowa for a total of around 6,500 households in work that will continue through next year.

Further, Windstream’s Small said the company is also eyeing fixed wireless deployments in locations in Missouri, Nebraska and elsewhere.

Windstream’s Williams said Radwin’s technology can transmit signals up to 5 miles along a line-of-sight connection, though speeds are often better at closer ranges. He said the company primarily uses unlicensed 5 GHz spectrum for its deployments, with backhaul services in licensed 11 GHz spectrum.

Williams added that Windstream often uses several towers to cover an area, mostly via 100-foot monopoles, and that Radwin’s equipment can support up to 65 customers per base station sector (each base station can support up to 16 sectors). However, he noted that few rural areas contain enough customers for the system to reach full capacity.

Williams added that Windstream is also considering using other vendors besides Radwin.

To be clear, Windstream isn’t the only telecom operator using fixed wireless to meet the FCC’s CAF-II requirements. AT&T and Frontier have also said they’re using the technology for similar deployments. In fact, Frontier’s management confirmed that the company deployed two markets last year and has plans to deploy another 15 to 20 markets this year, covering 30,000 households by the end of the year. “We've had good deployment so far with it and good uptake on the product on it as well,” Frontier’s CFO R. Perley McBride said during the carrier’s recent quarterly conference call with analysts, according to a Seeking Alpha transcript of his remarks.

Additionally, Windstream did acquire a fixed wireless provider—Business Only Broadband—in 2014, which the company used to establish its fixed wireless offerings for enterprises. The company's new CAF-II buildouts are targeted at consumers.