Nokia will deliver its AirScale portfolio, including 5G Radio Access Network (RAN), to support Charter Communications’ 5G rollout in trial markets. It marks Nokia’s first win in the Multiple System Operator (MSO) space for large-scale wireless 5G deployments.

Charter offers its Spectrum Mobile service through an MVNO deal with Verizon but touts its ability to combine that with its Wi-Fi network. It’s also using Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum to offload mobile traffic from the leased network.  

According to a press release, Charter will deploy Nokia’s 5G RAN products, including strand-mounted radios for CBRS, baseband units and a newly developed 5G CBRS Strand Mount Small Cells All-in-One portfolio. The deployment will help Charter continue to deliver mobile traffic in strategic locations across its 41-state footprint while providing a 5G experience.

“Charter is committed to providing our customers a fully converged connectivity experience that combines high value plans with the fastest wired and wireless speeds throughout our footprint,” said Justin Colwell, EVP, Connectivity Technology at Charter Communications, in a statement. “Incorporating Nokia’s innovative 5G technology into our advanced wireless converged network will help us ensure that Spectrum customers in areas with a high concentration of mobile traffic continue to receive superior mobile connectivity, including the nation’s fastest wireless speeds.”

Nokia President of North America Sales Shaun McCarthy said the announcement builds on more than 20 years working with Charter to enhance its network. “We are excited to expand its current trial to additional select metropolitan markets in the U.S., enabling an enhanced user experience for Spectrum Mobile subscribers. This win strengthens Nokia’s leadership position in the MSO space for 5G wireless deployments.”

Charter, which spent more than $464 million in the CBRS auction in 2020, served 6 million Spectrum Mobile customer lines as of Q1 2023.

The cable industry’s strategy for data offload is to deploy ultra-low cost strand-mounted small cells, targeting areas where their coaxial distribution plant is aerial, such as on telephone poles, rather than buried, wrote MoffettNathanson analyst Craig Moffett in a report last year.

These types of deployments don’t require the zoning, permitting, fiber backhaul and other requirements of a typical wireless small cell deployment, eliminating a lot of the traditional costs. One estimate puts the cost of each strand-mounted small cell at $2,500, which compares to about $25,000 for a more traditional small cell installation, according to the report.

Cable’s rise in wireless

In a report last week, Moffett suggested that the wireless market is going back to a four-player market not due to Dish Network’s entry – as was envisioned by the government with the T-Mobile/Sprint merger – but through cable.

On a net basis, cable accounted for about 75% of total industry phone net additions in Q1 2023, he said. Combined, cable now has nearly 12 million wireless subscribers.

While the cable companies are using wireless operators’ networks via MVNO deals, they’re able to offer much lower price points.

“Charter’s $30 per line bundled price is dramatically lower than any competitor’s offering,” the MoffettNathanson report said. “Charter offers $50 broadband + 1 line of mobile free for 12 months, while Comcast offers $25 broadband + $20 off a mobile line for two years.”

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