Charter Communications, the parent company of the Spectrum home internet and cable provider, has announced that it is actively developing and testing 5G wireless solutions in a number of key markets. In Charter's press release, it notes that it is currently working with early 5G in six key markets scattered across the United States; Orlando, Florida, Reno, Nevada, Columbus, Ohio, Grand Rapids, Michigan, Clarksville, Tennessee, and Bakersfield, California. The press release says that Charter is using its own network backhaul, including fiber, to roll out a suite of fixed 5G solutions on a testing basis. This is the beginning of Charter's 5G efforts in the real world, but almost certainly won't be the only form those ambitions take. In the past, the company has not shied away from the possibility of entering the mobile market.
Charter's press release outlines a plan to develop fixed 5G solutions using relatively low-frequency wireless spectrum bands, using these to address long-distance coverage needs. Rural coverage is named as an example use case, though solutions like these could also complement a small-cell deployment. Particularly, Charter says that it is currently testing the 3.5GHz band and solutions built around it as a potential answer to the quandary of how to get 5G-based broadband out into rural areas, many of which have only recently gotten 4G LTE service from major wireless carriers.
Charter's press release centers on the fact that wireless and wired solutions will have to be used together to fulfill the full potential of 5G and make commercial deployment at full scale feasible. This is a stance that the industry largely seems to agree with, as many wireless carriers are already working on building out 5G solutions that employ small cells and tower-based 5G equipment, as well as upgrades to existing 4G LTE towers that would allow them to broadcast 5G signal in the near future with relatively little change to their configuration. Charter's press release does not mention when it will begin to commercialize its 5G solutions, but chances are good that it will be in time to compete with mobile providers. For the time being, the previous industry watcher consensus of 2020 being the year of mainstream commercial 5G still stands.