While some wireless internet service providers (WISPs) are beginning to deploy fiber broadband in some areas, Maine-based Redzone Wireless remains focused on fixed wireless, said Jim McKenna, Redzone CEO, in an interview with Telecompetitor.
“I’m very passionate about wireless in the last mile,” said McKenna.
McKenna argues that the U.S. “should be investing more in fiber in the middle mile and wireless in the last mile.”
If we had done more of that, he said, “we would have our digital divide solved.”
McKenna admits, though, that until recently, his enthusiasm for fixed wireless had begun to wane.
Redzone offers fixed wireless throughout a large part of Maine using LTE in combination with CBRS and 2.5 GHz spectrum. That network currently supports speeds of 50 Mbps downstream and 15 Mbps upstream and, as McKenna explained, “Redzone’s 2.5 GHz spectrum holdings have narrow channel-width limitations in many areas that we would like to serve, and those narrow channel widths prevent the company from offering speeds above 100 Mbps downstream.”
“A year ago, I thought I was going to go back to my roots in fiber,” he noted, in a reference to previous career experience involving fiber broadband.
His enthusiasm for fixed wireless was rekindled, however, when new technology “landed on my doorstep,” he said.
Recently, Redzone has begun to offer service at speeds of 500 Mbps downstream using unlicensed spectrum in the 5 GHz band and equipment from Tarana Wireless.
And while the company traditionally has focused on rural areas, it announced service this week in more urban markets — Portland, South Portland, Lewiston, Auburn, Frankfort and neighboring communities.
Most customers are within a three-mile radius of Redzone tower-mounted base stations, but according to McKenna, “We can get clear line-of-sight to five miles and beyond.”
A total of 80 MHz of spectrum is required to support the 500 Mbps speeds.
According to McKenna, it costs 80% less to build fixed wireless access (FWA) in comparison with fiber broadband.
“That means it’s more capital efficient and I can pass that capital efficiency on to the consumer long term in the form of cost savings,” McKenna said.
That’s particularly important in Maine, which McKenna sees having “more affordability challenges than availability challenges.”
The Redzone service is currently priced at $75 a month with a five-year rate lock, although the company has at times offered promotional pricing as low as $50 a month.
Redzone expects to expand its FWA service more broadly in Maine and outside of the state, McKenna said.
McKenna’s comments are in sharp contrast to negative comments about fixed wireless made by AT&T’s chief financial officer earlier this week, who questioned the technology’s long-term capacity. It’s important to note, though, that the AT&T comments pertained to fixed wireless deployed over a mobile network, whereas Redzone’s infrastructure is dedicated solely to fixed service.