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Toward 'Fiber-Like' Wireless Broadband

Fixed wireless broadband is the flavor of the month &ndash again &ndash but with a number of not-insignificant number of hurdles still to be overcome.

Gabriel Brown

October 17, 2016

2 Min Read
Toward 'Fiber-Like' Wireless Broadband

Fixed wireless broadband is flavor of the month -- again. As mentioned in my last column, adoption is driven fundamentally by worldwide demand for connectivity. In markets where wireline connectivity is poor, it goes without saying that an optimized fixed wireless solution has an important role to play. (See The Return of Fixed Wireless Access.)

There are now many operators using LTE technology to offer wireless broadband to homes around the world in markets as diverse as Spain (Orange), South Africa (Telkom) and Australia (NBN). In both mature and fast-growing countries, there is a proven operations model for LTE fixed access to provide an effective alternative to DSL at the lower end of the speed range, typically for rural and underserved suburban areas.

In other markets, fixed wireless is being positioned as a way to provide fiber-like services to residential customers without having to dig a trench across their front gardens and as a fast-to-deploy connectivity solution to enterprise premises. Two recent pieces of operator news show how operators are seeking to boost revenues by taking customers from competitors that aren't doing a particularly great job with wireline access.

  • Windstream announced it would deploy 39GHz point-to-multipoint radios in 40 different US cities. The aim to is to reach buildings not adequately served today, but also to take market share from incumbent wireline operators. (See Fixed Wireless Revival: Windstream Eyes New Multi-Megabit Markets in US, from Light Reading's Dan Jones.)

  • At the NGMN 5G conference in Germany last week, Verizon discussed its trials of mmWave access in the 28GHz band. The intent is to provide fiber-like performance without having to dig up customer driveways. The operator is trailing a number of models for "outdoor-in" connectivity, including roof mounted antennas, window bridges and fully indoor customer equipment.

Wireless solutions that use high-band mmWave spectrum to step up performance to a level equivalent to high-end cable or fiber services are clearly more challenging than LTE. There are certainly reasons to be optimistic: The technical modelling looks good, chipset integration is underway, and product development is making progress from today's prototypes to mass-market industrial devices.

The crucial test, however, is real-world performance. Factors such as how many premises can be connected to a given basestation installation, how predictable the service quality is, and how deployments can adapt to changing environments and conditions -- for example, issues related to foliage or building materials -- are all critical. And once setup and installation is addressed, the really, really important factor is the long-term operational costs of fixed wireless access.

The goal of a wireless access service that is indistinguishable from wireline broadband access from the consumer perspective remains alive, but with a number of not-insignificant hurdles still to be overcome.

This blog is sponsored by Huawei

— Gabriel Brown, Senior Analyst, Heavy Reading

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About the Author(s)

Gabriel Brown

Principal Analyst, Heavy Reading

Gabriel leads mobile network research for Heavy Reading. His coverage includes system architecture, RAN, core, and service-layer platforms. Key research topics include 5G, open RAN, mobile core, and the application of cloud technologies to wireless networking.

Gabriel has more than 20 years’ experience as a mobile network analyst. Prior to joining Heavy Reading, he was chief analyst for Light Reading’s Insider research service; before that, he was editor of IP Wireline and Wireless Week at London's Euromoney Institutional Investor.

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