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5G Rollout in Buncombe County and Implications

by Stagg Newman*

Both T-Mobile and U.S. Cellular are offering 5G, the next generation cellular service in some parts of Buncombe County. That will certainly improve the mobile service offer. This article addresses the implications for fixed Home Broadband service.

5G – Fifth Generation Wireless

Because we see 5G heavily marketed by most carriers; it is important to revisit the definition of 5G.  

  • 5G define in Wikipedia – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/5G 
    • 5G is the fifth generation technology standard for broadband cellular networks, which cellular phone companies began deploying worldwide in 2019, and is the planned successor to the 4G networks which provide connectivity to most current cell phones.
    • 5G networks are cellular networks, in which the service area is divided into small geographical areas called cells. All 5G wireless devices in a cell are connected to the Internet and telephone network by radio waves through a local antenna in the cell. The main advantage of the new networks is that they will have greater bandwidth, giving higher download speeds, eventually up to 10 gigabits per second (Gbit/s).
    • Frequency bands – low, medium, and high. A 5G network will be composed of networks consisting of up to three different types of cells, each requiring specific antenna designs as well as providing a different tradeoff of download speed to distance and service area. 5G cell phones and wireless devices connect to the network through the highest speed antenna within range at their location:
      • Low-band 5G uses a similar frequency range to 4G cellphones, 600–850 MHz, giving download speeds a little higher than 4G: 30–250 megabits per second (Mbit/s).[5] Low-band cell towers have a range and coverage area similar to 4G towers. 
      • Mid-band 5G uses microwaves of 2.5–3.7 GHz, allowing speeds of 100–900 Mbit/s, with each cell tower providing service up to several kilometers in radius. This level of service is the most widely deployed, and should be available in most metropolitan areas in 2020. Some regions are not implementing low-band, making this the minimum service level. 
      • High-band 5G uses frequencies of 25–39 GHz, near the bottom of the millimeter wave band, although higher frequencies may be used in the future. It often achieves download speeds in the gigabit per second (Gbit/s) range, comparable to cable internet. However, millimeter waves (mmWave or mmW) have a more limited range, requiring many small cells.[6] They can be impeded or blocked by materials in walls or windows. Due to their higher cost, plans are to deploy these cells only in dense urban environments and areas where crowds of people congregate such as sports stadiums and convention centers.
  • 5G coverage maps
    • Speed tests in themselves are not enough information.  A notion of quality of needs to be associated with speed and coverage.  Quality includes many additional elements to download and upload speeds like latency, indoor/outdoor, time of day, search vs streaming, etc.  Mobile device speed test apps are starting to include indexes of a value of the quality.  These indexed value calculations vary by app developer.  

It should be noted that certain areas where 5G has been detected are not necessarily commercially open. Indeed, beforehand, technical tests can be carried out by operators (NPerf 5G coverage map).

Buncombe County Broadband Service

Today the situation in Buncombe County is approximately 90% of our residents are offered >100 Mbps wired broadband service. RiverStreet in the Central North offers > 100 Mbps downlink broadband service with Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) technology. Charter Spectrum in much of the rest of the county except for the southeast corner offers > 100 Mbps downlink broadband service with deep fiber Hybrid Fiber Coax (HFC) technology. French Broad Electric Member Cooperative (FBEMC), as result of winning state GREAT Grant funding, will offer >100 Mbps service in the far west of the county in the next couple of years with FTTH technology. Charter recently won federal Rural Development Opportunity Funding to build out in some additional areas of the county.

SkyRunner offers fixed wireless broadband service at speeds of 25 Mbps or higher in many parts of the county but only to homeowners who have a clean line of sight to one of the towers with SkyRunner radio equipment. SkyRunner, in addition to offering fixed wireless, is now starting to build out FTTH networks fed by Gbps fixed wireless backhaul to groups of homeowners in some micro-communities.

That leaves approximately 10% of Buncombe County households with the only choice of fixed Internet access as DSL (Digital Subscriber Line Services) from traditional telecommunications companies such as AT&T, Frontier, and RiverStreet in some areas where RiverStreet has not yet modernized the network of the old Barnardsville Telephone company, which they acquired. This DSL technology cannot offer >25 Mbps downlink broadband service and thus no longer meets the FCC definition of minimal acceptable service. These customer areas, where only DSL service is offered, create the “holes in the Swiss Cheese” network, i.e. they cannot obtain the high speed broadband needed for work at home, remote education, and good streaming services so urgently needed in the COVID-19 era. Note that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) now defines 25 Mbps as the minimum downlink speed for acceptable broadband service eligible for purposes of federal funding.

Buncombe County’s Swiss Cheese Network

Buncombe County Swiss Cheese Broadband Network
Buncombe County Map – No Broadband Service Offered (in red)

Unserved Households

Addressing the needs of the approximately 10% of unserved households is now urgent. Now 5G, the next generation of cellular service, can provide a viable alternative for >25 Mbps service where there is excellent or good signal strength. As the cellular operators further modernize their 5G networks, they will also offer options without stringent caps on monthly usage. The article “T-Mobile Takes Stab at 5G Home Broadband After Others Failed” by Scott Moritz from Bloomberg News, https://www.bloombergquint.com/onweb/t-mobile-takes-a-stab-at-5g-home-broadband-where-others-failed, provides an excellent description of T-Mobile’s plans to offer 5G Home Broadband. We know U.S. Cellular is working on similar plans. Given industry dynamics and Verizon’s response in other markets, I believe Verizon is likely to follow. If all of these firms develop such offers, this can fill in many of the holes in our “Swiss cheese” network not served by current broadband providers that offer at least 25 Mbps downlink broadband service. 

T Mobile Low Band Spectrum

The article about T-Mobile above does miss the importance of low band spectrum. The importance of low band spectrum is that low band connections do not require direct line-of-sight nor near line-of-sight. The signals bounce off of hillsides, buildings, etc. T-Mobile has excellent low-band spectrum in our area and is using this to offer 5G. The map below shows their current 5G offer in our area. Note that in some areas the signal strength is excellent and over 100 Mbps speeds are possible according to testing some of us have done. On the other hand in other areas, the 5G signal is good, which probably means between 25 Mbps and 100 Mbps service. In other areas the strength is only fair or poor and customers cannot obtain >25 Mbps service. Note that this is the outdoor signal strength. Indoor performance will be slower.

T-Mobile provides a coverage map. You can put in your address and see the coverage there. You can also scroll over the map to see how coverage changes.

Here is the link. https://www.t-mobile.com/coverage/coverage-map

T-Mobile Coverage in Buncombe County Area

T Mobile Coverage in Buncombe County
T Mobile Coverage Check – Asheville Area

Low band spectrum allows the rapid implementation of 5G on the existing macro-coverage cell sites on high towers. These cell sites may have a radius of several miles or more and cover an area of 10 to 100 square miles. Deploying 5G on these existing cell sites enables a quick roll out. The one disadvantage of the low band spectrum is that the amount of frequency in each block is relatively small compared to other bands. This fact together with the large area covered by each cell site means there are more customers served by the cell site. This means the total capacity allocated for all of the customers, both fixed and mobile is limited. So initially at least, the cellular players using low band spectrum are unlikely to offer the type of unlimited usage promised in the fixed Home Broadband offers.

As the cellular players also light-up the mid-band spectrum discussed in the article, they will have more attractive Home Broadband offers that will be more competitive with the offers of Charter, RiverStreet, and FBEMC and Skyrunner.

T-Mobile through their acquisition of the Sprint cellular network has excellent mid-band mobile spectrum in our area to complement their low-band spectrum.

Both U.S. Cellular and Verizon, which already have some mid-band spectrum, acquired considerably more mid-band spectrum in the recent FCC so-called C Band spectrum auction.

I have not investigated AT&T’s spectrum assets to know if they will be able to stay competitive with T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, and Verizon in our area as 5G roll-out accelerates.

US Cellular Coverage

US Cellular has also started rolling out 5G in our area. Here is the map for the US Cellular Coverage in Buncombe County Area.

US Cellular Coverage Buncombe County Area
US Cellular Buncombe County Area Coverage – 5G in light green

Here are links to two articles that describe the plans and perspective of U.S. Cellular for Home Broadband offers.

  1. US Cellular Outlines Rural 5G Fixed Wireless Plans; CEO Says Other 5G Use Cases Remain Elusive – Telecompetitor. (2020, November 6). Telecompetitor.com. https://www.telecompetitor.com/uscellular-outlines-rural-5g-fixed-wireless-plans-ceo-says-other-5g-use-cases-remain-elusive/
  2. admin. (2019, March 27). The Future of Home Internet | U.S. Cellular®. U.S. Cellular Connected. https://connected.uscellular.com/live-home-and-family/access-anywhere-the-future-of-home-internet/

‌Implications for Buncombe County

The implication for Buncombe County is that essentially all homeowners in Buncombe County could have access to a high quality (>25 Mbps, essentially unlimited usage, low latency service) by the combination of:

  • Fixed wired last mile broadband from Charter, FBEMC, RiverStreet, or SkyRunner for about 90% of our customers, particularly if the RDOF and GREAT Grant build-outs are done and we can get a built-out in the Broad River basin
  • 5G Home broadband can serve most of the remaining area, if we can get one or more cellular operators to roll out 5G to many of the holes in our ’Swiss cheese” network
  • A Low-Earth Orbit Satellite (LEOS) system (e.g. SpaceX Star Link) can serve the remaining 1/2 % or so of really hard-to-serve households.

Therefore, Buncombe County, and other counties in WNC really need to help solve the cell site location, power, and fiber backhaul problem for the cellular operators to make the rapid 5G roll-out more attractive. Extensive 5G networks will complement the wired deep fiber networks. 5G will fill in the inevitable “holes” in these networks, i.e. the really high cost to build areas. 5G will also provide customers with competitive alternatives.

* Stagg Newman was former Chief Technologist at the FCC and Chief Technologist of the team that created Connecting America: The National Broadband Plan in 2010 for Congress and the President. He started his career at Bell Laboratories and worked for 4 decades as a technologist, technology manager, and the consultant on broadband, cellular, and Internet deployment around the world. The perspective in this article is the author’s and does not represent the official position of WNC Broadband nor any other organizations that he advises.

Stagg Newman

Categories
Broadband funding Buncombe

Investment Funding

Buncombe Broadband Infrastructure

Brownie Newman says the county is still working on figuring out logistics but expects to use the funds to invest in broadband infrastructure, homelessness issues, and public health.

WLOS

Young, T. (2021, March 17). Buncombe County to receive $51 million from COVID relief bill. WLOS; WLOS. https://wlos.com/news/local/buncombe-county-to-receive-51-million-from-covid-relief-bill

Categories
Affordability Broadband access Digital Inclusion Fiber Local Government Low-income Access Sandy Mush Terri Wells Wireless

Imperative Internet

Fiber Broadband At the Sandy Mush Community Center

Terri Wells talks about how fiber broadband provides tools to minimize a #digitaldivide at the Sandy Mush Community Center.

Fiber and broadband connectivity are imperative for digital inclusion in our communities.

Bringing high-speed, free internet to the Sandy Mush Community Center has been a life-changer.

Terri Wells

A community center is hub that can provide assistance for education, telehealth, employment, entertainment, and more.

More About SMCC WiFi, Internet

Sandy Mush Community Center Website > WiFi Connection

Fiber Optics – the Timeless Investment

Support the Western North Carolina Broadband Project.

Our WNCBP Advisory Team, including Terri Wells; are advocating for the timeless investment of fiber optics in our communities.

Categories
Buncombe Buncombe County Schools Education Hotspot

Broadband for Buncombe County Schools

Response to COVID-19, Tech Impact

When the Governor made the decision to close schools late on Friday, March 13, 2020 BCS made arrangements for all of our K-5 students to pick up their 1:1 device March 16-17 (BCS was already 1:1 K-12 with all 6th – 12th graders taking devices home) and began virtual “remote learning” on Wednesday, March 18, 2021 after providing guidance and training for staff.

Over 300 teachers who did not already use a Learning Management System (LMS) were trained on Friday, March 13, 2020 before the governor’s announcement in anticipation of the changes.

We had a homework hotspot (cellular data) program with around 800 students assigned mobile hotspots (600 of which were assigned to high school students) with limited LTE data plans.

Today we have 2800 homework hotspots with the majority now having unlimited high speed data plans. We quickly learned that limited data plans did not support multiple Zoom or Google Meet sessions per day. We also learned that several areas in the county did not have adequate cellular coverage to support homework hotspots. Key areas are Broad River, Sandy Mush and certain areas of Fairview, but there are smaller pockets without cellular coverage throughout the county (e.g. areas in the Leicester area and even within the Asheville city limits).

We identified between 50 and 100 families that had essentially no access to wired or wireless high speed broadband. BCS partnered with Skyrunner and Charter to connect approximately 15 families, but unfortunately the majority of these 50-100 families did not have line of sight to a Skyrunner tower or did not live close enough to a Charter fiber line to get service. Some of these families leverage Wi-Fi at places like our Public Libraries, Broad River Fire Department or Sandy Mush Community Center, as well some travel to family and friends for Wi-Fi.

We did work with the Buncombe County Local Government to gain permission for Skyrunner to place equipment on the Broad River tower. Buncombe County Local Government in partnership with the ACS & BCS Foundation and the Housing Authority are partnering with Skyrunner to provide free Wi-Fi to each HA residence.

One key takeaway was that current satellite Internet options are less than ideal in terms of speed and latency to support virtual instruction.

We also increased staffing for our Technology Help Desk to accommodate a significant increase in support requests and provide support in English and Spanish. We provided custom training to all instructional staff including Best Practices for Remote Learning and specific Learning Management System courses for Seesaw (K-2), Google Classroom and Canvas.

Digital Learning in partnership with Curriculum, Student Services and Special Services created a Remote Learning Guide for teachers. This guide was based on data from the Friday Institute and adapted for our school system. It is continually updated as we learn more about remote learning. Digital Learning created a Virtual Days website for parents, students, teachers and staff to support remote learning. Our BCS Virtual Academy was expanded to accommodate new applicants. Digital Learning created online tutorials and professional development (BCS Digital Learning YouTube Channel) and Language Services translated tutorials into Spanish and Russian. Teachers were required to complete remote learning and LMS training at the beginning of this school year. Weekly optional live virtual trainings are available and recordings are posted on our YouTube channel. Continuing education credits are given for the trainings.

We have learned a great deal due to this unprecedented pandemic. One thing is for sure, our staff and students are resilient and they have, for the most part, adapted to online learning during this challenging time while also becoming more technologically savvy.

Barry Pace, Director of Technology, Buncombe County Schools
Categories
Buncombe Rural

Governor Cooper Announces $30 million to Expand Internet Access in Rural Areas

Project Expected to Connect Households and Businesses to Broadband in Buncombe County

Buncombe County and the French Broad Electric Membership Cooperative will benefit from this supplementing round of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) program funds.

“This pandemic is shining a light on the need for better high speed internet access in rural communities. These projects will the make sure the internet can connect people to the education, health care and jobs they need.”

GOVERNOR ROY COOPER

NC Gov. Cooper: Governor Cooper Announces $30 million to Expand Internet Access in Rural Areas. (2020, December 17). Nc.Gov. https://governor.nc.gov/news/governor-cooper-announces-30-million-expand-internet-access-rural-areas

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Asheville Asheville City Schools Broadband in WNC Buncombe Digital Equity Economic Development Education Henderson Madison Speed Test Transylvania

Connect K-12

Classrooms no longer have chalk boards. Children do have technology everywhere. Technology requires bandwidth. Digital tools are important for tech-infused educational growth. Adequate high-speed internet is needed for our schools future.

The homework gap is personified when there is digital inequality.

Broadband Speeds / Student

To enable digital learning in every classroom every day, the FCC recommends 1Mbps per student.

How do our bigger K-12 compare?

Connect K-12 has some current, free data for review:

Connected Nations Podcast

Learn more about digital equity for our WNC children.

Listen to this Connected Nations podcast.

https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/connected-nations-podcast/id1508008735#episodeGuid=Buzzsprout-6692588

Advocate for Broadband

The Western North Carolina is advocating for broadband for all residents.

Digital inclusion is critical to our economic future!

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A-B Tech Broadband access Education LinkedIn

Professional Development

Philip Cooper at A-B Tech

Broadband provides not only the ability to work from home; but also the ability to engage with professional development. In Philip’s interview he talks about how his employer, A-B Tech ‘thought out-of-the-box’ for the COVID environment; leveraging high-speed internet for continued operations with home-office setup, hotspots, and more.

Philip leverage “LinkedIn Learning’s Communicating with Diplomacy and Tact Online” for his professional decevelpment – https://www.linkedin.com/learning/communicating-with-diplomacy-and-tact

Broadband provides professional development opportunities

#AppalachiaStrong

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A-B Tech Economic Development Philip Cooper

Change Agent

Philip Cooper

During Philip Cooper’s employment at our local community college, Philip became a ‘Change Agent’ for his work in the human resource development area. Carrying that further, Philip opened his own consultancy, ‘Change Agent Cooper LLC’ to help in gaps and disparities.

Philips talks about how broadband and social media help to communicate upcoming trainings, job fairs, and information to friends. Inspire or retire is his hashtag to help personal and professional development. He defines social media with his personal calling and careers.

Philip Cooper talks to Marc Czarnecki about how he uses ‘Change Agent’ online

Previous Segments

Introduction to Philip Cooper the Xennial

Connecting with People with Hashtags

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A-B Tech Community Development Digital Inclusion Economic Development Education People Philip Cooper

Philip Cooper the Xennial

‘Change Agent’ Philip Cooper calls himself a Xennial; a mix between millennial and a GenX. How does a Xennial use broadband? This series discusses topics around Philip Cooper, a native Western North Carolinian from Rutherford County and broadband.

Philip talks about Maslow’s hierarchy of shelter and and food. How does digital inclusion and digital equity fit here? More focused, what about our criminal justice system and the prisoner re-entry program of a community workforce development plan.

A Gateway computer was Philips introduction to technology as a Xennial. He is a socialite with computers.

#AppalachiaStrong Philip Cooper, a Xennial
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Affordability Broadband access Broadband in WNC Buncombe Economic Development Live Streaming Relevancy

Broadband & Employment

Broadband is high speed internet that connects you to the world and the opportunities that it beholds. Economic opportunities are changing as a result of broadband.

This Wednesday, Marc Czarnecki will hold a Livestream event with the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s WNC Career Expo. It’s virtual, so you need internet access. Plan your internet access!

WNC CAREER EXPO 

REGIONAL VIRTUAL JOB FAIR

At 9:00 a.m. Wednesday, October 14 – the Experienced Workforce Initiatives very own Web Tech Czar – Marc Czarnecki is inviting you to join his Google Livestream event on broadband and how to leverage it for your employment.

Using Broadband for Employment

Register TODAY at the Asheville Chamber of Commerce’s Virtual Job Fair and on Wednesday morning you will have access to the ‘Employment & Training Services’ >  ‘Asheville 50+ Works’ > Webcasts.

The Webcast button in ‘Asheville 50+ Works’ will contain the livestream URL for you to join.