It Has Taken a Couple of Decades, but Fixed Wireless is Coming Back in a Big Way

Windstream plans to expand its fixed wireless access operations in 40 U.S. markets, using 39-GHz millimeter wave spectrum, presumably for backhaul and business customer access.

Ironically, Windstream in 2008 wrote down the value of its 39 GHz spectrum holdings to zero, as part of a sale of mobile and wireless assets to AT&T Mobility.

The collapse of a millimeter-wave access services business is not terribly unusual. Whole companies (Windstar and Teligent, for example) went bankrupt after trying to build an enterprise access business using millimeter wave technology, after the passage of the Telecommunications Act of 1996.   

But times change. Platforms become more capable. Costs go down. And with coming 5G mobile networks embracing millimeter wave technology, what was a broken business model two decades ago might well become an essential underpinning of next generation networks, both mobile and fixed.

Google Fiber, Facebook, AT&T and Verizon are a few of the leading firms now developing or planning to use fixed wireless in a significant way for Internet access.

Cambridge Broadband Networks (CBNL) is providing the radios and and Straight Path Communications is supplying the spectrum licenses for the Windstream rollout.

The new technology will allow Windstream customers data speeds of up to 275 Mbps full duplex, and it also supplements Windstream's other fixed wireless access technologies that range in speed from 1 Mbps to 1 Gbps.

Windstream will deploy in seven existing markets where it currently offers fixed wireless access technology - Chicago, New York City, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Milwaukee and Little Rock  using equipment from CBNL and spectrum from Straight Path.

Windstream will also deploy CNBL equipment in 33 new markets where it will begin offering its fixed wireless technology. Those markets include Atlanta, Baltimore, Charlotte, Cincinnati, Dallas, Detroit, Kansas City, Miami, Minneapolis,Nashville, Oklahoma City, Phoenix, Richmond, San Antonio, Seattle and St. Louis.

Under the agreement, Windstream has the option of eventually expanding fixed wireless to an additional 32 markets where Straight Path owns 39 GHz spectrum.

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