Ballast said the computers for his network at the Seattle hotel can easily fit into a small closet.  (Source: ballast)

With the implementation in Seattle, Ballast hopes for the maturation of private wireless | Light reading

According to one of the founders of Ballast Networks, the private wireless networking space is finally preparing to take a big step forward. That’s in part because his small startup helped build a $40,000 private wireless network for a hotel that now broadcasts commercial traffic to AT&T’s customers.

“What we are selling is as easy to implement as Wi-Fi, but has the quality of DAS [distributed antenna system]“Paul Kooiker, co-founder of Ballast Networks, told Light Reading.

Hotels, sports stadiums, airports, and other similar locations typically need to install DAS networks to bring cellular connections indoors. But these systems are often very expensive and require significant amounts of bulky equipment. Ballast’s new network, on the other hand, operates in the unlicensed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band, which can be used by all major US carriers, and requires only a few computer servers.

Ballast said the computers for his network at the Seattle hotel can easily fit into a small closet.  (Source: ballast)

Ballast said the computers for his network at the Seattle hotel can easily fit into a small closet.
(Source: ballast)

It means it’s cheap enough and small enough that smaller hotels can purchase and install it themselves, with no need for additional funding.

“Our approach to the market is to make it simple and cheap for owners to merge these networks,” Kooiker explained.

From DAS to private wireless

Kooiker said he knows all about the difficulties of DAS. He said he installed nearly 200 of these systems during his tenure as an AT&T executive. He said he left the company about five years ago, in the early days of the private wireless CBRS industry, with the idea of ​​exploiting technologies that would make indoor networks more affordable.

However, like others in the space, he acknowledged that he “got into the hype cycle early.” Now, though, he hinted that the industry is beginning to mature.

Kooiker’s comments stem from what he said was the successful installation of a private wireless network at the Sound Hotel Seattle Belltown, an approximately 140-room luxury hotel in downtown Seattle. The network operates in the unlicensed 3.5GHz CBRS spectrum band and covers the first two floors of the hotel, or approximately 10,000 square feet, with four transmitter sites using Airspan radios and a core from Druid Software. Kooiker said the setup cost about $40,000, which Ballast paid to use the network as a product showcase for other customers.

“Our goal is to go into buildings where DAS would never make sense,” Kooiker said. He explained that Ballast’s plan is to sell its private wireless network setup to other venues that can’t afford DAS installations due to their size. Such venues may want their own network to ensure visitors’ phones stay connected. But places like Seattle’s Sound may also want a private wireless network for applications like environmental monitoring, employee communications, or video surveillance. In fact, the Sound Hotel tested these applications with Comcast and Ballast last year.

Enter MOCN

Kooiker said the arrival of Multiple Operator Core Network (MOCN) technology – and operator support for that technology – is one final piece of the private wireless puzzle. MOCN promises to bridge the gap between public and commercial wireless networks (like those at AT&T) and private wireless networks (like those at the Sound Hotel). This means that the network will not be just for Sound Hotel staff; it can also be used by its guests.

“It’s carrying commercial traffic now,” said Kooiker of the Ballast network at the Sound Hotel.

He explained that Ballast built and tested the network with support from AT&T’s network engineers. Through MOCN, the companies ensured that Sound guests switched to the hotel’s private wireless network when they were no longer in range of AT&T’s cell sites outside the hotel. (Kooiker said cell signals often can’t reach deep into the Sound Hotel due to the dense materials used in the hotel’s construction.)

Kooiker said the last obstacle to Ballast’s deployment was 911. He said Ballast needed to ensure Sound guests could still route their AT&T calls to emergency responders even when connected to the hotel’s network.

Now, he said, 911 routing is working. This means that Ballast can sell its design to other places. He said the company is currently working with T-Mobile to implement a similar MOCN and 911 routing process and plans to do so with Verizon as well.

To be clear, Ballast isn’t the only company hoping to use MOCN to develop the private wireless networking market. In fact, social networking giant Meta recently used the technology to ensure its employees could still make calls within its offices.

Additionally, Kooiker cautioned that Ballast’s approach likely won’t replace DAS in all venues. For example, in high-traffic locations like sports stadiums, network operators will still likely want to distribute all of their various spectrum bands in a way that private wireless CBRS networks cannot support.

But for smaller venues, like the Sound Hotel, Ballast believes there’s a new option.

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Mike Dano, editorial director, 5G and mobile strategies, Light Reading | @mikeddano

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