Common Network, a startup tech company, is hoping to become a part of the next generation of wireless technology with its plan to combine 5G with technology open-sourced by Facebook. Another way Common Networks hopes to rise above in the battle for 5G is by relying on parts of the wireless spectrum that can be used without a license from the Federal Communications Commission. They also use inexpensive, commodity hardware. Common Networks does not strive to start out as the most flashy and expensive company but instead work towards innovation while keeping things affordable and easy to expand.
For $50 a month people in the city of Alameda, San Francisco have been granted access to 5G, millimeter wave, technology that delivers speeds of 1 gigabit per second. This speed matches Google Fiber’s broadband service and is not completely uncommon as a company Google Fiber obtained named Webpass offers gigabit wireless in several cities. That being said, Common Networks believes they can improve upon this by finding a way to more quickly and more affordably build 5G networks and expand beyond their competition.
Based in San Francisco, Common Networks is using 5G to offer home broadband, not mobile, in order to stay on par with big brand internet provides such as Comcast and AT&T. They revealed that their Millimeter wave service in Alameda relies on hardware designed by Facebook called Terragraph. Terragraph is open sourced by Facebook as a part of the Telecom Infrastructure Project. While Facebook has been connecting with other carries from across the globe in hopes of getting a clear analysis on Terragraph, Common Networks is one of the first to utilize it as a way to deliver internet connectivity to U.S. customers.
By tapping into high-frequency parts of the wireless spectrum that are not used as often, Millimeter wave services can offer fast speeds. This issue is that barriers such as walls and trees can easily prevent these high-frequency signals from reaching their intended destination, but there is a way to work around this. By carriers building multiple smaller more convenient cell towers that will carry the signals across shorter spaces, they can better improve its output as opposed to larger cell towers that cover entire regions.
While these small towers solve one issue for carriers, another major issue preventing 5G from becoming more widely available across the United States is the need for more fiber-optic cable infrastructure. Fiber-optic cable infrastructure is used to act as the backhaul between the small towers. This is where Terragraph comes into play.
Terragraph lets these smaller cell towers connect and aims to reduce the need for as many fiber-optic lines. Common Networks aims to use a Terragraph device on the roofs of buildings instead of running the new fiber-optic cable to the destination it hopes to service. Finally, nearby Terragraph devices will connect to each other providing wireless connectivity to the buildings. This is not meant to imply that there is no need for fiber-optic assistance for backhaul. One of the Terragraph devices in the area will still need to be connected with a fiber-optics. That being said, it can potentially remove a major part of the problem by lessening how much infrastructures are required to make 5G run smoothly. This cut in infrastructure costs is how Common Networks hopes to expand beyond its competition.
Common Networks has raised $35 million at this point. This $35 million may not be much in comparison to the $16.7 billion spent by Verizon for capital expenditures last year, but they seem confident in their efforts. Common Network CEO Zach Brock states “It doesn’t cost us $30 million to get our first customers online,” and continues to clarify that “It costs more like $10,000 to enter a new area.”
With all that said, it is important to remember that this is open source hardware, and while Common Networks has a head start, there is no telling how the bigger companies will respond in the future.
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