A group of vendors has been working on a CBRS private wireless network for a school in an underprivileged area of Sacramento, California, for a couple of years. And as a result of their trial, the Sacramento City Council recently approved $1.4 million in funding to create a permanent private 5G network for the school and two public housing communities in the city.

The vendors involved in the project include Athonet, Federated Wireless, Intel, JMA Wireless, Amazon Web Services (AWS), Megh Computing and Future Technologies Venture. They joined forces to create a model for private CBRS networks, which they hope to scale statewide in California.

According to a recent announcement from the Sacramento City Council, at full implementation, 751 residents between two communities — Marina Vista and Alder Grove — as well as Leataata Floyd Elementary School and Health Professional High School will have free broadband access for at least five years.

The trial at Leataata Floyd Elementary School was paid for with a combination of public and private funds.

But, $1.4 million for full implementation of this project isn’t a lot of money in the world of broadband projects.

Todd Landry, corporate VP of Product and Market Strategy at JMA Wireless, told Fierce the project started during the early phases of COVID, as early as the end of 2020. The vendors that came together were highly interested in addressing a need and proving that CBRS spectrum could be applied to the use case of connecting students in their homes.

“All vendors contributed to this proof point in some way, through equipment, people, and time contributions,” said Landry. “So – is this particular project itself a measure for a broadly profitable service deployment? No. Is this project a validation that when technologists come together to solve for a specific problem they can find answers? Yes.”

Landry said as it relates to connecting people considered part of the “digital divide,” each area has to be considered carefully because wireless technology demands certain propagation characteristics that can be hampered by heavy vegetation and building density (clutter) and by hills and valleys (terrain). In the Sacramento case, the housing areas are within a fairly open terrain and within reasonable distance. “Other areas of our country are vastly different and offer great challenges in the design and deployment. So, the mileage may vary,” he said.

Prasad Rampalli, an advisor to the California Emerging Technology Fund, posted on LinkedIn, “This is a major milestone as it sets the foundation for a public-private partnership model for deploying wireless broadband infrastructure across underserved parts of Sacramento and California.”

He added, “We are in the early innings and excited with the prospects of showcasing Marina Vista and Alder Grove as a reference template for deployment across other underserved areas in California.”

Robin Harwani, head of Global Telecom Industry Solutions at AWS, wrote on LinkedIn, “From a vision to live Private 5G network bridging digital divide and now a model for entire U.S. [It’s an] incredible feeling for Sacramento community using the network for improving life, and this effort scaling.”

But will the vendors be able to continue this project with just $1.4 million in funding? Federated Wireless and AWS declined to comment for this story.

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