Altice USA Eyes CBRS Small Cell Strategy

Add Altice USA to a growing list of U.S. cable operators that are eager to kick the tires on the financial and technical viability of small cell networks that utilize the emerging CBRS (Citizens Band Radio Service) shared spectrum band.

Altice USA last month issued an RFI (request for information) on CBRS small cell products as well as an RFP (request for proposal) for a multi-phase trial, Multichannel News has learned.

Charter Communications and Comcast are among other U.S. cable operators that are testing the mettle of mobile and wireless systems that utilize CBRS, a 150 MHz-wide batch of spectrum in the range of 3.55 GHz to 3.7 GHz that has been underutilized and will be allocated for incumbent users (for U.S. Navy flight operations, for example) and for new licensed and unlicensed use.

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Tied into its CBRS-facing efforts, Altice USA is contemplating building a cellular network and exploring the financial feasibility of building a small cell network.

That work is entering the mix as Altice USA moves ahead on the development of a mobile product that will leverage a “full” MVNO agreement with Sprint. Altice USA expected to launch its mobile product in the first quarter of 2019.

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As it is with Comcast and Charter, who have MVNO deals with Verizon Wireless, Altice USA’s interest in CBRS centers on helping the operator offset what could be significant roaming payments to mobile network operators once its own mobile offering begins to scale up.

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Per information about Altice’s plan reviewed by Multichannel News, Altice USA believes it is well positioned to build a small network in part to its access to low-cost sites and a workforce that could be trained to install and maintain the new small cell network.

As for the trials, Altice USA expects the first phase to focus on the verification of its RF propagation modelling in the field, with future field trials to test LTE-based services.

RELATED: Small Cells to Play Big Role in Charter’s Mobile Future

Altice is seeking two vendors for the field trials, and those selected will become candidates for a possible full build out.

Per the project timelines reviewed by Multichannel News, RFI and RFP responses were due by the end of April, and Altice USA expects to complete its vendor selections by May 15, and start phase 1 trials by June, and phase 2 by early August.

Altice USA isn’t commenting on its plans involving CBRS, but stressed that the company is pleased with the progress it’s made concerning its mobile plans.

On Wednesday (May 9) during Altice USA’s Q1 call, company chairman and CEO Dexter Goei did offer an update on the company’s activities with Sprint, noting that the effort is ahead of schedule.

He said core network development has begun via investing into Altice USA’s WiFi network (to help with data offload) and IT platforms. Altice USA, he added, is “connecting to Sprint's microsites to support Sprint's network specification, which will benefit Altice USA's MVNO service.”

He also said the proposed merger between T-Mobile and Sprint would be good for Altice USA’s mobile prospects.

“I think we would benefit from the roaming agreement that Sprint has with T-Mo irrespective of the closing of the transaction,” he said. “So I think it is business as usual, but expectation's that, if anything, it will be net positive.”