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Charter Spectrum Planning New Rural CBRS Wireless Trials in Upstate New York and Rural North Carolina

A CBRS antenna for fixed wireless broadband was installed on this North Carolina home by Charter Spectrum. (Image: Charter Communications)

Charter Communications is envisioning building out a rural fixed wireless network on the edges of its existing service areas in rural parts of New York and North Carolina to attract new customers without spending money on extending its hybrid fiber-coax (HFC) network to high-cost areas.

Charter has spent more than a year conducting mobility and fixed wireless tests using small cells in several cities across the country to determine if the technology is commercially viable. The company is focusing on two service scenarios: rural areas within a mile or two of its existing cable footprint and urban and suburban areas already served by Spectrum’s HFC network.

Charter’s rural initiative uses the Citizens Band Radio Service (CBRS) band at 3.5 GHz to provide rural fixed wireless service to areas just out of reach of its cable network. Trials of fixed wireless service are already underway or will be soon in exurban and rural areas near Denver, Tampa, Bakesfield, Calif., Coldwater, Mich., and Lexington, Ky. These first trials were designed to prove the concept of delivering high-speed fixed wireless internet in different areas of the country. In 2020, additional trials are planned for rural parts of New York and North Carolina, with a tentative plan to launch service that same year.

“Results of these trials have been promising as we were seeing speeds that significantly exceed the FCC’s definition of high speed broadband in most circumstances which would allow for video streaming and the use of multiple apps simultaneously,” Charter wrote on its Policy Blog. “We believe fixed wireless access technologies using this mid-band spectrum could offer a cost-effective solution for providing broadband service to homes and businesses in harder to reach rural areas.”

The next step for Charter is a full service trial in rural counties in New York and North Carolina that would offer high-speed wireless broadband to residential customers. Charter began testing its fixed wireless service in Davidson County, N.C. roughly between the communities of Lexington and Salisbury. Each of Charter’s four temporary transmitting locations in Davidson County are licensed to serve a radius of up to 9.3 miles, but most customers are significantly closer to the transmitting sites. Participants get free service for the duration of the trial, a free outdoor antenna and a free combination receiver/router. All equipment remains the property of Charter and is to be returned at the end of the trial.

Charter told attendees at last week’s SCTE/ISBE Cable-Tec Expo in New Orleans that results exceeded performance expectations. Customers are getting in excess of 25/3 Mbps service, and there is enough bandwidth left over for Charter to consider offering a true wireless triple play package of video, internet, and home phone service.

Charter’s mobile vans can deploy a CBRS, C-Band, or millimeter wave signal. (Image: Charter Communications)

Craig Cowden, Charter’s senior vice president of wireless technology, told attendees Charter envisions CBRS wireless service to extend the Spectrum cable footprint into rural areas just outside of the cable company’s wired footprint, and a good economic case might be possible to offer service to residents that usually fail the company’s Return On Investment test that governs whether Charter will extend wired service into unserved neighborhoods within their franchise area.

But Cowden also sees Charter deploying CBRS in urban and suburban areas to handle wireless traffic for a growing number of its wireless customers. Spectrum Mobile relies on free Wi-Fi networks and an agreement with Verizon Wireless to provide 4G LTE connectivity for its customers. Charter can begin reducing costs by moving mobile traffic off of Verizon’s network and onto Charter’s own mobile network, likely operating on CBRS frequencies.

The CBRS band is suitable for outdoor traffic, but is likely not going to work well when customers go indoors. Charter plans to hand that traffic back to its extensive network of Wi-Fi hotspots, mostly located at businesses using Spectrum’s commercial service, and the customer’s own in-home Wi-Fi.

Charter has been testing its mobile CBRS service from test transmitters in Tampa and Charlotte, N.C., but plans a much more extensive test in New York and Los Angeles utilizing more than 250 cell sites.

In 2017 and 2018, Charter also filed requests for special temporary authority to test 5G service in the 28 GHz millimeter wave band, but those tests appear to be exploratory and there is no indication a commercial deployment effort is forthcoming soon.

Charter’s Experimental CBRS Projects (based on filings with the FCC for experimental and permanent licenses)

Lexington, Kentucky

WM9LXR was licensed on March 23, 2018 and a CBRS transmitter capable of reaching up to a radius of 9.3 miles was placed on top of the Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Lexington North at 2100 Hackney Place in Lexington. The license expired Sept. 19, 2018. A new application to operate this transmitter was filed Nov. 16, 2018 expiring June 4, 2019.

Centennial, Colorado

WM9XTL was licensed on June 1, 2018 and a CBRS transmitter capable of reaching up to 15 miles away was erected just northeast of the Centennial Airport along E. Easter Avenue. This transmitter was designed to experiment with mobile CBRS services. The license expired Dec. 5, 2018.

Another experimental license to test CBRS service was sought Nov. 16, 2018 and expired June 4, 2019.

A license to operate WO9XOY was filed on May 10, 2019 to experiment with a private fixed wireless LTE network in the CBRS band for a corporate client from the same transmitter location as above. The license would expire Dec. 2, 2019.

Los Angeles

WM9XXU was licensed on June 22, 2018 to test CBRS mobile service from four transmitting sites around Baird Park, Van Nuys, Baldwin Hills, and West Anaheim Junction areas. The license expired Dec. 22, 2018.

An application to operate WN9XRT was filed with the FCC on Nov. 16, 2018. CBRS transmitters would operate from the same neighborhoods as above to conduct outdoor and indoor fixed wireless mobile testing within 8 miles of the four fixed locations until Dec. 22, 2018.

An application to run WO9XQW on an experimental basis was filed May 31, 2019 to expire Dec. 19, 2019. The license application described the CBRS test project:

Charter will deploy experimental fixed and mobile equipment in various configurations. Depending on the testing scenario, devices will be deployed on existing aerial cable strand, on existing buildings/poles or indoors.

Specifically, Charter will use the following deployment approaches:

  1. Strand mount deployment: 118ft. height.
  2. Building/pole mount deployment: up to 100ft. height.
  3. Indoors: up to 40ft. height (3rd floor indoor).

New York

WM9XXV was licensed on June 22, 2018 to test various CBRS applications from three transmitter sites:

125th Street & Rockaway Blvd. Jamaica
72nd Street Flushing
South Beach, Staten Island

The license expired Dec. 22, 2018.

An application for WN9XRS was filed with the FCC on Nov. 16, 2018 to expire Dec. 23, 2018 to test CBRS services from the three locations noted above. On May 31, 2019, another application was filed to continue testing until Dec. 19, 2019.

Charlotte, North Carolina

A pending application filed Aug. 28, 2019 for WN9XHY, a CBRS transmitter located on S. Caldwell Street next to Spectrum Center was filed on Aug. 28, 2018. Charter sought to cover a radius of just over 9 miles to test fixed and mobile applications with an expiration of March 16, 2019.

An application for WO9XCX was filed on March 15, 2019 set to expire Sept. 29, 2019. This is a CBRS experimental project to test indoor and outdoor fixed and mobile wireless reception from two fixed transmitter locations located at Spectrum Center and the Clanton Park/Roseland neighborhood. An application for an additional experimental license was filed March 15, 2019 with an operational end date of Sep. 28, 2019.

Tampa, Florida

An application for WN9XHZ, a CBRS transmitter covering up to 8 miles from Ybor Heights was sought on Aug. 28, 2018 to expire March 16, 2019. It was to test fixed and mobile CBRS applications.

Keystone, Iowa

A license to operate WN9XIX from a mobile transmitter van was filed Sept. 6, 2018 to expire March 30, 2019. An additional application to operate a similar CBRS test project was filed Sep. 17, 2019 and set to expire March 28, 2020. On Sep. 20, 2019 an application was filed to operate WP9XIC until March 29, 2020. This latter project is designed “to evaluate 5G frequencies and technologies for their use in point-to-multipoint access network capacity (e.g., rate versus range) and data throughput. The proposed operations will advance Charter’s understanding of technology and network potential using mid-band spectrum and will advance the potential deployment of fixed and mobile 5G services.”

Bowling Green (and Lake Wales), Florida

A license application filed Nov. 28, 2018 proposed to test wireless service in the so-called C-Band spectrum now used by satellites to check how well it performs with the potential of interference from licensed satellite TV services. Outdoor-only tests of wireless service within a two-mile radius of fixed transmitter locations in the vicinity of Bowling Green and Lake Wales were underway until the license for WN9XSQ expired June 10, 2019.

An additional license to further test potential C-Band spectrum for interference issues was sought to begin Dec. 12, 2018 and expiring June 10, 2019.

Davidson County, North Carolina

Charter applied for an ongoing license to operate WJ2XZT, a CBRS project consisting of four transmitters each serving a radius of approximately nine miles, to provide fixed wireless service to customers in this part of rural North Carolina. The transmitters are located at three locations:

153 Sigmon Road, Lexington
185 Chestnut Grove Church Road, Lexington
784 Mount Carmel Road, Lexington

Park City, Utah

On July 3, 2019 the company applied for WK2XIP, a new one-year experimental project:

“As part of its efforts to lead the industry in broadband innovation, Charter intends to conduct fixed wireless experiments in the 3550-3700 MHz band. The proposed operations will advance Charter’s understanding of 5G technology and network potential in mid-band spectrum and will advance the potential deployment of 5G fixed and mobile services.

“Charter will conduct the proposed test using antennas at a location in the Park City, Utah area. These experiments will evaluate the 3550-3700 MHz frequencies and 5G technologies for their use in real-time communications in a low-latency environment.

“The tests will utilize fixed transmitters with a 2km or smaller effective radius. The antennas will be mounted on a hydraulic mast attached to a mobile trailer, which will be located at the requested test location. The radios will be pointed towards the side of the mountain, the peak of which is higher than the peak height of the mast. The trailer mast can be raised to 10.4 meters.”

Colorado Springs, Colorado

An experimental license for WO9XXJ was filed July 18, 2019 to test a millimeter wave 5G network in the 37 GHz band. The license expires Jan. 28, 2020.

Cable Industry Ends Disagreement Over DOCSIS 4.0: Two Different Approaches Will Co-Exist

The next standard for cable broadband is now due by 2020.

For over a year, the cable industry has been stalled after deciding to slash investment in broadband while enduring indecision and confusion over the next generation of cable broadband.

At issue is a simmering disagreement — rare for the usually unified cable industry — about the next generation of cable broadband, dubbed DOCSIS 4.0.

Two sides have emerged. Cable giant Comcast has spent years gradually preparing its network for perhaps the last iteration of coaxial copper-delivered cable internet service. It has spent at least five years gradually pushing optical fiber closer to its customers, retiring additional coaxial cable and the amplifiers and other equipment associated with that technology. The result is a company ready to embrace Full Duplex DOCSIS, known as “FDX.”

FDX is designed to allow upload and download traffic to share the same spectrum, letting cable companies put internet service bandwidth to full use with maximum efficiency. Comcast wants FDX to be a central part of DOCSIS 4.0. The company has been working through a long-term plan to offer much faster internet service, including symmetrical broadband — unified upload and download speeds. This would erase the cable industry’s broadband Achilles’ heel: download speeds much faster than upload speeds.

To achieve FDX, cable companies have to push fiber much deeper into their networks, sometimes right up to the edge of neighborhoods. It also means eliminating signal amplifiers that help keep signals robust as they travel across older coaxial cable infrastructure. Engineers call this concept “Node+0” architecture, which means a network with zero amplifiers.

FDX gives the cable industry the opportunity of running a more robust broadband network, easily capable of 10 Gbps with an upgrade path to 25 Gbps later on. The downside is that it can be very expensive to implement, especially if a cable company has under invested in upgrades and not incrementally laid a foundation for FDX. Wall Street may balk at the upgrade costs. The logistics of readying degrading older infrastructure to launch FDX may be so onerous, some cable systems may find it more cost effective to scrap their existing hybrid fiber-coaxial (HFC) networks and switch to a state-of-the-art fiber to the home network instead. That is precisely what Altice USA is doing with its Cablevision/Optimum system in New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut.

Charter Communications, along with many other smaller cable operators, have been pushing an alternative to FDX that is likely to cost much less to implement. Extended Spectrum DOCSIS (ESD) is designed to work over existing cable systems, including those that still rely on amplifiers and aging coaxial cable. Instead of allowing internet traffic to share bandwidth, ESD follows the existing standard by keeping upload traffic on different frequencies than download traffic. It simply extends the amount of bandwidth open to both types of traffic, which will allow cable systems to raise speeds. ESD will dedicate frequencies up to 3 GHz (and higher in some cases) for internet traffic. DOCSIS 3.1, the current standard, only supports internet traffic on frequencies up to around 1.2 GHz. ESD will also allow cable companies to raise upload speeds and should support up to 10 Gbps downloads. But there are some questions about how well ESD will support 25 Gbps speed and the condition of the cable company’s existing coaxial network will matter a lot more than ever before. A substandard network will cause significant speed degradation and could even disrupt service in some cases.

Despite the limitations of ESD, many cable companies consider its low implementation cost a principal reason to support it over FDX.

For much of this year, cable companies have put upgrades on hold as the industry sorts out which direction DOCSIS 4.0 will take. Equipment manufacturers and vendors have resorted to layoffs and cutbacks and have signaled neither Comcast nor other cable companies are big enough to justify different DOCSIS standards supporting FDX or ESD.

Comcast and Charter are the two largest cable companies in the United States.

Therefore, the cable industry has informally decided DOCSIS 4.0 will need to support both FDX and ESD under a single specification, with next generation cable modems and equipment capable of supporting either technology. At a joint pre-Cable-Tex Expo conference held on Monday, executives from Comcast and Charter appeared to support the new unified approach to DOCSIS 4.0.

John Williams, vice president of outside plant engineering and architecture at Charter Communications, told attendees cable companies need to support both FDX and ESD and stop taking an “either/or” approach.

“In order to do this, we need to look at the synergies and embrace ESD and FDX as the next generation of HFC,” Williams said. “It’s all about scale.”

Charter has been significantly challenged historically because its own legacy cable systems were often behind the times and sometimes dilapidated. Its 2016 acquisition of Time Warner Cable and Bright House Networks only complicated things further, because neither operator had a reputation for using state-of-the-art HFC technology. Costly upgrades have been underway at many Charter-owned cable systems since the merger closed, some still ongoing.

Robert Howald, part of Comcast’s network upgrade team, called the emerging DOCSIS 4.0 standard a “perfect complementary pair” of FDC and ESD. He noted both approaches will allow cable systems to boost speeds to at least 10/10 Gbps, with faster speeds in the future.

Howald pointed out Comcast is already testing FDX technology in Connecticut and Colorado, working out bugs and unexpected technical challenges.

“We feel like we’ve significantly de-risked some of the technology components of FDX,” Howald said. “We felt really good about what we saw in the field.”

What is Full Duplex DOCSIS? This video from CableLabs explains the technology and how it differs from other DOCSIS cable broadband technology. (1:58)

Spectrum Raising Price & Speed Of Legacy ‘Everyday Low Price’ Internet

Time Warner Cable used to sell $14.99/mo slow speed internet. Spectrum agreed to grandfather the program for existing enrolled customers.

Charter Spectrum is raising both the speed and price of its legacy Everyday Low Price Internet package (ELP), formerly sold by Time Warner Cable.

Customers grandfathered on an existing Time Warner Cable ELP plan will see the following changes, reported by several of our readers, likely already in effect in some areas:

  • NY/NJ Customers: Speeds increased from 3/1 Mbps to 20/2 Mbps. Price increasing from $14.99/mo to $19.99/mo.
  • Other States: Speed increase to 20/2 Mbps. Customers will be notified of a $3 rate hike, bringing the new price to $27.99/mo.

A modem rental fee may also apply in most states, unless you use your own cable modem. Outside of New York and New Jersey, most legacy ELP customers have already experienced several gradual rate increases on this plan, which was originally sold nationwide for $14.99/mo. The first rate increase took most customers to $19.99/mo, followed by a rate increase last fall to $24.99/mo. Now Charter Spectrum has notified customers of another $3/mo rate hike, bringing the monthly rate to $27.99.

Stop the Cap! fought for and won a special concession for New York State residents as a consequence of the approval of the Time Warner Cable-Charter Communications merger. We requested the New York State Public Service Commission make the continued availability of price fixed ELP service a condition of the 2016 merger approval. The PSC agreed with us and made continued availability of the $14.99 service for at least three years part of the deal. That deal condition recently expired and Charter Spectrum is ready to raise the price of the service in New York and New Jersey, but also dramatically boost its download speed. New York and New Jersey residents will continue getting a substantial discount off the price Charter Spectrum charges elsewhere, at least for now.

Charter Urges Streaming Services to Crack Down on Password Sharing

Phillip Dampier September 16, 2019 Charter Spectrum, Competition, Consumer News, Online Video 4 Comments

Charter Communications is contemplating tying piracy mitigation to renewed contracts with movie studios, cable networks, and other programmers in an effort to enforce a new authentication standard to stop password sharing on streaming services like Netflix, Hulu, Disney+, and CBS All Access.

The cable company is trying to build an alliance that will enforce authentication principles on subscribers that share passwords to streaming services. Walt Disney is the only programmer to sign on thus far, agreeing to Charter’s piracy mitigation strategies for its Disney+ service in return for a renewed contract to distribute Disney programming on Spectrum cable systems.

Thomas Rutledge, Charter’s CEO, has spoken frequently about revenue erosion caused when consumers share their streaming accounts with friends and extended family members. Spectrum enforces geofencing on its subscribers, prohibiting access to certain streamed content outside of the home. Rutledge has not been specific about exactly what types of limitations would be imposed under the new strategy, but examples could include geofencing, periodic location checks, and limits on the number of devices authorized to view content.

“Ultimately our goal is that we can get an alliance of a large enough group of programmers and operators to protect the value of the content that people produce and the content that we distribute and we pay for,” Chris Winfrey, Charter’s chief financial officer, said last week at the Bank of America Merrill Lynch 2019 Media, Communications & Entertainment Conference in Beverly Hills.

Winfrey severely criticized programmers that turn a blind eye to the practice of password sharing, claiming such practices are “insane.”

“To think that it doesn’t impact the way we get paid, it does,” Winfrey said. “And it conditions the entire marketplace to think that content should be devalued, it should be free, and that’s the way it is and I shouldn’t have to pay for it. It’s our firm belief that we’d be growing and growing significantly [if it wasn’t for password sharing].”

FCC, Wireless Industry Take Aim At C Band Satellite Spectrum for 5G

Phillip Dampier September 9, 2019 Public Policy & Gov't, Video, Wireless Broadband No Comments

A major battle between satellite owners, broadcasters, and the telecom industry has emerged over a proposal to repurpose a portion of C Band satellite spectrum for use by the wireless industry.

Multiple proposals from the wireless and cable industry to raid C Band satellite frequencies for the use of future 5G wireless networks suggest carving up a band that has been used for decades to distribute radio and television programming.

Before the advent of Dish Networks and DirecTV, homeowners placed 6-12′ large rotatable satellite dishes in backyards across rural America to access more than a dozen C Band satellites delivering radio and television programming. Although most consumers have switched to much smaller fixed satellite dishes associated with Dish or DirecTV, broadcasters and cable companies have mostly kept their C Band dishes to reliably receive programming for rebroadcast.

Now the wireless industry is hoping to poach a significant amount of frequencies in the C Band allocation of 3.7-4.2 GHz to use for 5G wireless service. Competing plans vary on exactly how much of the satellite band would be carved out. One plan proposed by Charter Communications and some independent cable companies would take 370 megahertz from the 500 megahertz now used by C Band satellites and sell it off in at least one FCC-managed auction to the wireless industry. A more modest plan by an alliance of satellite owners would give up 200 megahertz of the band, allowing wireless companies to acquire 180 megahertz of spectrum. To reduce the potential of interference, both major plans offer to set aside 20 megahertz to be used as a “guard band” to separate satellite signals from 5G wireless transmissions.

Satellite dish outside of KTVB-TV in Boise, Ida. (Image courtesy: KTVB-TV)

Much like the FCC’s repack of the UHF TV dial, which is forcing many stations to relocate to a much smaller number of available UHF TV channels, most proposals call on the FCC to subsidize dislocated satellite broadcasters and users with some of the auction proceeds to help pay the costs to switch to fiber optic terrestrial distribution instead.

Broadcasters and satellite companies claim the cable industry proposal would leave U.S. satellite users drastically short of the minimum 300 megahertz of satellite spectrum required to provide radio and television stations with network programming. Many rural broadcasters have complained that the cable industry plan calling for a shift to fiber optic distribution ignores the fact that there is no fiber service available in many areas. Other objectors claim fiber outages are much more common than disruptions to satellite signals, putting viewers at risk of a much greater chance of programming disruptions.

With spectrum valued at more than $8 billion at stake, various industry groups are organized into coalitions and alliances to either support or fight the proposals. The Trump Administration has made it known it is putting a high priority on facilitating the development of 5G services to beat the Chinese wireless industry, which is already moving forward on a major deployment of next generation wireless networks. The FCC, with a 3-2 Republican majority, has signaled it is open to reallocating spectrum to wireless carriers for the rollout of 5G service. Unfortunately, much of this spectrum is already in use, setting up battles between incumbent users threatened to be displaced and the wireless industry, which sees big profits from acquiring and deploying more spectrum.

With serious money at stake, strains are emerging among some individual members of the different industry groups. Late last week, Paris-based Eutelsat Communications quit the largest satellite owner coalition, the C-Band Alliance. The move fractured unity among the world’s satellite owners, just as the FCC seems ready to move on a reallocation plan. Eutelsat will now lobby the FCC directly, reportedly because of concerns among shareholders that splitting off significant amounts of C Band spectrum is inevitable and could drastically reduce the value of Eutelsat’s share price. Eutelsat reportedly wants to independently participate in the FCC’s proceeding, potentially securing a larger amount of compensation from the FCC for the spectrum it will give up as part of a final reallocation plan.

Whatever compensation plan emerges will run into the billions of dollars. Satellite dishes will probably require new equipment to shield signals from interference, may require re-pointing to a different satellite (which could prove problematic for some equipment originally installed in the 1980s), and may even require the launch of additional satellites to provide more capacity in the newly slimmed C Band.

The FCC is expected to decide on the reallocation proposals this fall, with a signal repack likely to take between 18-36 months before the frequencies can be cleared for use by wireless operators.

Satellite owners, mobile carriers, and cable operators discuss reallocating part of the satellite C Band for use by 5G wireless networks. Sponsored by the industry-funded Technology Policy Institute. Sept. 3, 2019 (44:10)

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