NextWave marked a milestone this week with infrastructure vendor Airspan Networks, announcing 120 eNodeB base stations deployed as part of NextWave’s ongoing private network rollout in the New York metro area. NextWave revealed plans last year to leverage its Band 41, aka 2.5 GHz, spectrum capabilities to provide what it describes as a unique wide-area, high-speed private networking offer for mission-critical services.
The first phase of its deployment includes 23 high-power macro sites, with typically six eNodeBs on each site, according to John Dooley, a director at NextWave. These sites cover large areas due to their configuration and the high-performance nature of the industrial radios that use them, he said, adding that they’re sort of like conventional carrier macro sites on steroids.
The coverage and site count is ramping up significantly in Phase II, he said. The company stated last year that its second phase would cover the entire New York metro area of about 15 million people by early 2023.
The company ties its roots back to the company, also called NextWave, made notable for its years-long legal fight over spectrum licenses the U.S. government seized when NextWave was under bankruptcy protection. NextWave won its case at the U.S. Supreme Court in 2008.
NextWave did not get its 2.5 GHz spectrum in last year’s FCC auction. Its holdings go back many years, predating the auction. The company holds significant amounts of spectrum in New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco, Las Vegas and the Los Angeles areas.
With Phase I complete, it’s expanding the New York network and beginning the build process in the San Francisco and Philadelphia markets as part of Phase II, Dooley said.
The build in Phase I is a macro overlay of 4G LTE, as it will be the basis of the initial Phase II expansion in New York, he said. In the current 3GPP standard for Band 41, LTE allows NextWave to use smaller channels alongside its broadband channels, he explained. “These have much higher dynamic range, allowing us to meet critical service reliability requirements for customers, even in dense urban environments,” he told Fierce via email.
“Facility-based (small cell) services going into customer facilities are now 5G NR on some of our channels,” he said. “The system will ultimately be 5G NR everywhere as the standard and equipment availability evolves.”
He also gave a shoutout to Airspan, saying it’s been a great partner for this type of build and provided the kind of support and attention that a larger vendor wouldn’t be able to give. In fact, that’s why they were able to complete Phase I in record time, he said. NextWave also likes the ability to influence the next-generation product line so that it better meets its customer requirements.
NextWave is using a conventional RAN architecture, “but we are excited by the open RAN potential. I think the direction that open RAN is going makes a lot of sense for private networks,” he said.
The company isn’t naming names when it comes to customers but it’s working with large anchor customers in the tech sector, with hopes of making public announcements in the near term. As they build out, there will be opportunities to accommodate smaller customers, he said.
As for reports about private wireless not talking off as quickly as some predicted, he said NextWave isn’t seeing any slowing. “I think the difference here is that we can offer a true private network, with dedicated spectrum and an existing overlay network,” he said. “This allows for security and performance guarantees that the conventional carrier offering cannot. Band 41 further accelerates our ability to provide service, since the consumer and industrial device ecosystem is near-universal.”
The conventional carriers can generally only offer slicing or perhaps CBRS small cell solutions, which is a different proposition and it doesn’t meet the requirements that NextWave is fulfilling in its part of the market, he said. “If we have a market issue, it is that we cannot accommodate all of the present opportunities and still meet our strict performance commitments,” he added.
In a press release, NextWave said its New York Metro service is one of the first private networks to prioritize seamless transitions between in-facility 5G coverage and urban 4G+5G transportation channels. “This will allow private network users to maintain high levels of security and performance, even when they leave their facility, with the added value of this spectrum being supported by popular smartphones and other widely available mobile broadband devices,” the release states.
Dooley said that NextWave isn’t roaming onto T-Mobile, the carrier with the largest contingence of 2.5 GHz spectrum in the U.S. Rather, “our own wide-area network is the off-facility connectivity for current users/applications, and it covers essential corridors in the New York market,” he said. “When in areas not covered by our private overlay, users default to their conventional carrier capabilities.”
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