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UScellular exec wants more innovation around FWA mmWave

It’s no surprise that UScellular is a big advocate for fixed wireless access (FWA). The company sees value in being able to deliver broadband connectivity to customers, particularly those that live in the many rural communities within its coverage area. But UScellular wants more industry focus on FWA and on developing millimeter wave (mmWave) spectrum.

Speaking at the 2022 Brooklyn 6G Summit, which is jointly hosted by Nokia and NYU Wireless, Robert Jakubek, VP of engineering at US Cellular called for the industry to figure out how to get more functionality out of mmWave. “CPEs [customer premises equipment] need to get more sophisticated,” Jakubek said. “Help us solve some of the challenges of mmWave fixed wireless and make it more effective.”

The request is notable because Nokia, which is a sponsor of the event, is a key supplier to UScellular and provides 5G radio gear for the company’s low-band and mmWave networks. Nokia also is working with UScellular on its deployment of standalone 5G (SA). Jakubek said that UScellular is moving “full speed ahead” with its SA core. Nokia has said previously that it should be deployed by year-end.

Jakubek added that UScellular has had success with a couple of extended range trials where its FWA signal used mmWave spectrum. In 2020 the operator and its partners Ericsson and Qualcomm completed an extended range 5G mmWave data call over a distance of more than 5 kilometers (around 3.1 miles) at speeds over 100 Mbps. And in 2021 the company set a record of 10 km (about 6.2 miles) in tests with Nokia and Qualcomm.

UScellular has deployed a Home Internet+ product that uses 5G and mmWave spectrum to deliver FWA to customers in more than 10 cities. It launched that product last April. In addition, the operator offers a FWA product over the company’s LTE network to its entire footprint. At the end of 2Q, UScellular said it had 57,000 FWA customers, but it doesn’t break out those on mmWave vs. those on the LTE network.

Besides FWA, Jakubek said that the company is looking ahead to deployment 5G voice over new radio (VoNR) but that isn’t likely to happen until 2024 or later.

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