Xplornet Brings High-Speed Internet to Rural Canadians

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For a telecommunications company its size, Woodstock, New Brunswick-based Xplornet is certainly punching above its weight class.

The company bills itself as a leading broadband provider in rural Canada. Explornet’s goal is to bring high-speed internet connectivity to small towns and communities where the big telecom companies generally are not operating.

In some markets, Xplornet competes with heavyweights like Rogers, Bell, Telus, Shaw or Videotron for either wireline or wireless services. But in many rural communities, Xplornet is the only broadband game in town.

In late 2019, the company announced a robust $395 million, 5-year program through 2025, to provide broadband service to small communities across Canada. It is implementing that plan using a combination of broadband technology platforms – fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) and satellite downlinks.

Xplornet has its roots as a satellite company, initially using the Canadian Anik satellite for Ka band transmissions. In late 2021, the company will launch the next-generation Hughes Jupiter-3 Ultra High-Density satellite with download speeds up to 100 Mbps for customers outside Xplornet’s LTE coverage areas. 

On the ground, Xplornet’s focus is on growing and expanding its FWA LTE platform that delivers 50 Mbps download/10 Mbps speeds upload with the plan to double those speeds over the next several years.

Growth by Building and Buying

The company has expanded its fiber and FWA networks through both new construction and acquisition.

Last week, the company expanded in Manitoba by acquiring Swift High Speed, a FTTH and FWA services provider to over 6,000 customers across rural southeastern Manitoba. Xplornet will invest over $30 million to bring high-speed broadband services to more than 14,000 homes in Manitoba including over 7,000 new homes with FTTH. The deal includes a 130-mile fiber optic network and 119 towers.

Separately, Xplornet acquired more than 160 towers located throughout rural Manitoba for fixed and mobile 5G broadband coverage.

A year ago, Xplornet became a significant fiber provider in Atlantic Canada, while accelerating its deployment plans for its hybrid fiber/wireless network to serve homes and businesses in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Prince Edward Island. It acquired F6 Networks’ 960-mile fiber backbone network in New Brunswick and Nova Scotia and plans to connect approximately 24,000 rural homes and businesses in Nova Scotia.

Across the country, Xplornet acquired Corridor Communications Inc., to expand CCI’s fixed and wireless broadband solutions to rural residences and enterprise clients in Alberta, Manitoba and Saskatchewan. 

In central Canada, the acquisition of southern Ontario fiber company Metro Loop positions Xplornet for continued fiber expansion in rural Ontario, complementing its ongoing fiber projects across eastern Ontario. 

Xplornet continued growth in rural southwestern Ontario with the Silo Wireless acquisition that includes over 100 FWA towers and LTE sites, a FTTH network and future fiber expansion.

The company plans to deliver FTTH with speed plans up to 1 Gbps, to more than 23,000 homes and businesses in Quebec by September 30, 2022.

Leveraging Spectrum

The recent Innovation, Science and Economic Development Canada (ISED) 3500 MHz auction, reported by Inside Towers, put Xplornet on track to extend 5G wireless to over 16 million rural Canadians, offering FWA download speeds of 50 Mbps with upgrades to 100 Mbps.

Xplornet’s $194 million bid was its single largest spectrum investment to date. The company acquired 263 new licenses and another 698 transitional (that is, already in use but to be transitioned to the bidder) licenses of 10 MHz blocks in the 3500 MHz band in 99 license areas in rural markets across Canada. 

Its spectrum capacity across all markets averages 29 MHz (2.9 X 10 MHz blocks) and each market’s bandwidth ranges from 10 MHz to 60 MHz depending on the license area.

Xplornet will roll out its 5G wireless service across rural Canada starting in fall 2021 working with RF equipment manufacturers like Ericsson.

With this spectrum purchase, company subsidiaries, Xplornet Communications Inc., Xplore Mobile Inc. and Xplornet Wireless Inc. hold licensed spectrum in the 3500 MHz, 2500 MHZ, 600 MHz, 700 MHz and AWS-1 bands. 

Xplornet Communications Inc. is sublicensing 40 MHz of AWS-4 spectrum from TerreStar Solutions Inc. to cover most of the rural households located across Canada’s 10 provinces, enabling Xplornet to build a national 5G wireless broadband network. The spectrum agreement with TerreStar runs until March 2035.

By John Celentano, Inside Towers Business Editor

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