Charter outlines ‘inside-out’ wireless strategy, urges FCC to adopt ‘county’-sized geographic licensing of 3.5 GHz

Charter van
Charter is “initially focusing on advanced wireless solutions inside the home and office, and eventually expanding outdoors.” (Charter Communications)

While urging the FCC to regulate 3.5-GHz spectrum using geographic currency “no larger than counties,” Charter Communications shed more light on its wireless strategy in commentary sent to the agency last week, even adding a new buzzword: “inside-out.”

“Charter is in the process of transitioning its wireless network from a nomadic Wi-Fi network to one that supports full mobility by combining its existing Wi-Fi assets with multiple 4G and 5G access technologies,” Charter said in comments on an FCC notice of proposed rulemaking, focus on regulating 3.5-GHz spectrum. “In navigating this technological transition, Charter is concentrating on an 'Inside-Out' strategy, initially focusing on advanced wireless solutions inside the home and office, and eventually expanding outdoors.”

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The transition from “in” to “out” will have two phases, the operator said.

“First, in 2018, Charter will begin offering a mobile wireless service to its customers as a Wi-Fi-first MVNO, partnering with Verizon Wireless and using Charter’s own extensive Wi-Fi infrastructure to enhance customer connectivity and experience,” the filing explained. “In the second phase, Charter plans to use the 3.5 GHz band in conjunction with its Wi-Fi network to improve network performance and expand capacity to offer consumers a superior wireless service. Charter’s intended use of this band, however, requires rules facilitating new entrants’ access to this critical spectrum.”

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The FCC is currently considering licensing rules around the 3.5 GHz CBRS band that would allocate spectrum licenses on a much smaller geographic basis, and on a much shorter timespan, than cellular carriers typically use.

Backed by industry trade group NCTA, which has also filed comments to the FCC, Charter has made no secret of its interest in the CBRS band as a way to supplement the MVNO offering the company has said it will launch through Verizon next year.

“Small cells are not well-suited for large geographic license areas because, as a matter of design and engineering, these cells provide less coverage than traditional macrocells,” Charter said in its most recent filing. 

“Importantly, smaller license sizes will enable new entrants to more efficiently leverage their existing infrastructure in those counties that encompass their networks,” Charter added. “Utilizing existing networks would enable new entrants such as Charter to rapidly deploy 3.5 GHz radios throughout these county-sized licensing areas for the provision of wireless broadband service. This results in more wireless service options with better throughput for more consumers in a shorter period of time. 

Increasing the geographic size of public access licenses to so-called partial economic areas would limit access to the 3.5 GHz band to large wireless incumbents, Charter argued. 

“With larger license areas to cover, only those companies with national scale and an already significant wireless network presence throughout a PEA will be in a position to invest in expensive new licenses. Indeed, should such entities require the certainty of PEA-sized service areas, they remain fully able to aggregate license holdings through the process of a fair and competitive auction of county-sized licenses,” the cable operator wrote.