Home for the Holidays? – Inside Towers

Not everybody wants to be home for the holidays. Some have been stuck at home for almost two years thanks to COVID and are now wondering if it’s safe to travel to see relatives this year. Others are in the process of redefining home this holiday season, like the 12,000 refugees who have migrated to Amarillo, Texas to escape violence south of the border. For these people, home is about to get a lot better, thanks to a program called Amarillo Connected.

Amarillo Connected is the brainchild of city CIO Rich Gagnon, who secured $12 million in funding through the American Rescue Plan to connect schoolchildren within Amarillo’s refugee population, as well as others living in underserved areas of his city. He and his team evaluated several potential solutions, finally choosing Mimosa Networks’ fixed wireless point to multipoint system that transmits in the 4.9 GHz – 6.425 GHz range. 

Transmitters were installed on seven water towers and at least two other city-owned buildings, Gagnon told an audience last week at a trade show conference. He said the network is delivering up to 200 Mbps on the downlink in some areas, and symmetrical speeds of 100 Mbps.

The goal is to have 50 square miles covered by the end of the 2021-22 school year. This includes providing in-home broadband access in all Amarillo independent school district locations, serving approximately 10,000 students.

Next, Gagnon’s team wants to turn Amarillo Connected into Panhandle Connected by extending the network to 55 rural communities across the North Texas region. These communities are home to 48,000 students, many of whom do not have internet access. 

Fortunately, a government-funded education agency called Region 16 has deployed fiber to most of those 55 communities, so the middle mile is in place, Gagnon said. The next step is to put towers at schools in the communities, and then deploy the Mimosa FWA gear. School districts can then provide tablets and laptops to the students who need them. 

The city of Amarillo wants to spearhead the project, and hopes to deploy 80 towers and 70 repeaters in the Texas Panhandle. The city has applied to the Texas Broadband Development Office for funding of up to $100 million for the project.

Online learning is just one deliverable for Panhandle Connected. The network also promises to enable telehealth for rural residents, many of whom now drive hours to see medical specialists. Like Americans all over the country, many Panhandle residents will be home for the holidays whether they want to be or not. By next year’s holiday season, those homes may offer them a new way to connect, learn, and access essential services.

Veteran telecom industry editor and journalist Martha DeGrasse is an Inside Towers Contributing Analyst with features appearing twice per month. DeGrasse owns Network Builder Reports and contributes regularly to several publications. She was formerly a writer and editor with RCR Wireless and a TV business news producer.

By Martha DeGrasse, Inside Towers Contributing Analyst

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