McAllen Bridges the Digital Divide With Shared Spectrum CBRS Wireless Network


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The city of McAllen, TX is deploying a shared spectrum CBRS wireless network with technology from private network provider Federated Wireless and Cambium Networks (NASDAQ: CMBM), a provider of wireless networking solutions. The network gives the entire community of McAllen, TX — including more than 23,000 K-12 students in the independent school district — access to internet connectivity.

“Our main challenge was in our low-income neighborhoods where they really never had even cable TV, much less broadband and WiFi,” said McAllen Mayor Jim Darling. “That made it impossible for kids to go to school remotely, or for parents to get training or work from home. They were going to fast food restaurants or city parks for connectivity, and that’s no solution. This network gives us a permanent solution for all of our neighborhoods. Every child, parent and senior citizen who needs connectivity now has it. When you look at McAllen, we’re now not only a ‘Connected City,’ we’re a digital leader.” 

McAllen is part of Hidalgo County, which borders Mexico in the southern tip of the state. The city of approximately 140,000 people has been especially hard-hit by COVID-19, with more than 3,500 people, or 2.5 percent of the population, having been infected. This compares to a national average of 1.6 percent. McAllen’s schools, which have received a state “A” rating, a post-secondary readiness distinction and a perfect score in the financial integrity rating system, resumed classes on August 24 with plans to conduct remote learning for at least eight weeks. 

While each child in the district has received a wireless device for the last nine years, in-home connectivity has been inadequate. More than 25 percent of McAllen residents live below the poverty line and city-provided wireless access was limited to only 14 highly-distributed hot spots that covered a small fraction of the population.

“The deployment of a reliable, high performance network is going to transform our community, allowing our students to connect to their classes virtually and enabling our workforce to elevate its knowledge and capabilities as we move through the global pandemic,” said Dr. J.A. Gonzalez, Ed.D., superintendent of McAllen Independent School District.

“Approximately 70 percent of our students are economically disadvantaged and this is going to give all of them, regardless of their backgrounds, circumstances or the challenges they face at home, an opportunity to access the rich educational resources we are delivering to the community.”

Drew Lentz, co-founder of Frontera Consulting, was awarded a grant through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act to provide a CBRS network that blankets the city with high-speed wireless access. The solution includes 24 Cambium PMP 450m base stations and more than 1,000 cnPilot e700 outdoor WiFi access points mounted on utility poles, with spectrum controller services provided at no cost by Federated Wireless.

“The deployment of this network delivers on one of the core capabilities of CBRS, which is to extend wireless connectivity to rural areas that traditionally have not had a level playing field with the rest of the country,” said Matt Mangriotis, director of product management at Cambium Networks. “We are pleased to be working with Frontera and Federated Wireless to demonstrate how our CBRS WAN and outdoor WiFi LAN wireless networks with cnMaestro cloud management play a key role in its development and look forward to seeing how it propels the community forward.”

“CBRS is changing the face of the wireless industry forever, providing much-needed high-speed connectivity in education, manufacturing, entertainment and other industries,” said Federated Wireless co-founder, president and CEO Iyad Tarazi.

“The McAllen deployment serves as a shining example of the power and flexibility of shared spectrum services and creates a clear path for others to follow.”

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