Alaskan cable operator GCI (NASDAQ:GLIBA) is partnering with Ericsson (NASDAQ:ERIC) to build a 5G wireless network in Anchorage, the state's largest city.
Starting this summer, the partners plan to deploy Ericsson's 3GPP standards-based 5G New Radio (NR) hardware and software to 82 macro cell sites across the municipality of Anchorage from Girdwood to Eklutna, an area larger than Rhode Island. GCI's metro fiber network will provide backhaul services to the sites, which include both towers and building locations. The project is scheduled to be completed in 2020, with initial 5G service coming online in the first half of the year.
"We are committed to providing superior 5G wireless service to the residents of Anchorage just as we already provide the fastest Internet service," said GCI CEO Ron Duncan. "We are bringing all our assets - fiber, spectrum, wireless footprint, Alaska expertise - to bear on that commitment."
GCI's metro fiber network and cable plant already offers 1 Gbps cable modem service to 95% of Anchorage households. GCI controls more low/mid-band mobile radio spectrum than any other wireless provider in Anchorage. And it has more macro cell sites in Anchorage than any other Alaska wireless provider.
GCI controls 210 MHz of mobile radio spectrum in Anchorage, including low-band 600 MHz, 700 MHz, and 850 MHz spectrum, which is particularly useful for in-door coverage, and mid-band PCS and AWS spectrum. GCI's 5G NR deployment will take advantage of all five radio bands.
"The combination of our assets and Ericsson's industry-leading 5G solution will increase the capacity of our Anchorage wireless network by 10 times or more and also provide better coverage," said Duncan. "All of our customers will benefit from this increase in capacity."
"Ericsson and GCI have partnered over the past decade to connect customers in some of the most remote communities in Alaska. We are pleased to continue working with GCI to bring 5G service to Alaska's biggest city," said Ericsson President and CEO Borje Ekholm. "The introduction of 5G will create a powerful platform for innovation. Using 5G, new use cases benefitting society, consumers and enterprises will be created. Consumers will benefit from a premium experience with faster speeds and better coverage, while new wireless functionality will accelerate applications for the oil and gas, mining and health care industries across Alaska."
"Ericsson is a trusted partner that has helped us deliver terrestrial broadband and mobile wireless service solutions to rural Alaska, and we are pleased to work with them again to provide 5G service to our customers in Alaska's largest urban market," said Duncan. "Much as the transition from 3G to 4G LTE paved the way for game-changing services such as mobile ride hailing and remote telemedicine, the move to 5G will enable yet another wave of innovation in Alaska, including IoT (Internet of Things) applications in the home, business and industrial areas like the North Slope."
GCI's 5G deployment is also intended to support local government efforts to make Anchorage the nation's northernmost smart city. The municipality of Anchorage already uses a "light grid" to improve efficiency for municipal street lights and is exploring programs that rely on automated systems and connectivity to deliver services more efficiently to residents.
"Smart city technology enables the municipality to deliver services like transit and power more efficiently, reducing costs and improving the lives of our residents," said Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. "GCI's investment in a faster urban wireless network helps Anchorage remain competitive and helps us retain and attract business and talent."
"Innovation has driven GCI for 40 years, and innovation is still at the core of our business strategy today," said Duncan. "We're not stopping with the deployment of a 5G macro network. GCI's mission is to provide Alaska residents the best of the wireless and wireline worlds. Later this year, we will be announcing the move to an all IP cable plant in Anchorage and other Alaska cities. Our teams are working to integrate GCI's wireless network and our metro fiber/cable plant network to fully enable microcell, managed WiFi and other technologies."
"The result will be a wireless/wireline experience that will provide our customers nearly ubiquitous data connectivity. We are making these investments here in Anchorage because it's our hometown, and we know how to deliver service to Alaskans better than any other provider. Anchorage will serve as the model for our network modernization efforts in other Alaska cities."