With all the debate over the speeds provided by Fixed Wireless Access (FWA), I read with great interest the interview in a recent trade rag with the CEO of Resound Networks and their observations on this technology. For those who do not know Resound, they were one of the largest winners in the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) which occurred in the Fall of 2020. Specifically, it is set to receive ~ $310MM which it is still waiting to be allocated from the Commission. The FCC has not exactly been delving out the capital to the winners as quickly as hoped. Part of this is due to some winners being overly ambitious with their promise and some of this is due to significant questions about FWA delivering true broadband-like speeds.
Enter Tarana Wireless. This little company has come up in a lot of meetings I have had recently. According to its own company description on its press releases, Tarana Wireless is “the industry’s performance leader in broadband wireless access network solutions, powered by a number of well-proven breakthroughs in perfect, multidimensional optimization of radio signals.” In layman’s terms this means they provide the equipment to work with unlicensed spectrum to offer a good, clear and very fast FWA service. As to be imagined, FWA is the preferred solution in many rural markets where fiber deployment is a heavy lift (in both cost and time to trench).
Using Tarana’s equipment, Resound said it is seeing downstream speeds of 1Gbps (and upstream rates of 500Mbps) over five-mile distances using the 5GHz (unlicensed) spectrum band. This approach has allowed Resound to move very quickly. According to the CEO, they are able to open “four to five markets a month” with this equipment, connecting as many as 100 homes to one Tarana access point. While one of the criticisms about FWA is interference in the unlicensed band of spectrum, Tarana has noise mitigation technology to help limit such interference.
The timing of this is interesting given there have been other carriers – such as Shentel – who have scrapped all plans to move toward FWA and instead have double downed on its fiber to the home (FTTH) effort.
This becomes a timely critical debate as the WIA fought awfully hard (and succeeded) in having wireless included in the recently passed Infrastructure Bill. While most of this was about 5G, Jonathan Adelstein, the President and CEO of the Wireless Infrastructure Association, specifically commented on this following the passing of the bill on November 15th: “I’m especially thrilled the broadband funding explicitly heeds WIA’s call for technological flexibility which allows mobile and fixed wireless to compete for funding.”
How Tarana and other competing devices work and scale will be something to monitor. It seems to me that many of the WISPs (Wireless Internet Service Providers) have started to change their acronym to FISPs (Fiber Internet Service Providers) as they begin to overbuild and edge out their footprint with fiber. If Tarana and companies like it begin to really find their sea legs then this acronym change may boomerang back to the “WISPy” side – especially in the all important rural America footprint – the main pillar of any digital divide debate. An important trend to watch for sure!