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4G/3G/WiFi

FWA to the Rescue Down Under

Back in the day, fixed wireless looked like a solution to the digital divide.

Then the mobile revolution happened, and developing world subscriber numbers leapt from 250 million in 2000 to 1 billion in 2005 (and around 5 billion now). In retrospect it's obvious that a fixed connection to a household can't compete with the utility and business case of a mobile device. WiMax tried to play both sides of the street but it too has been overrun. In most cases, WiMax systems have been swapped out for LTE-TDD because they use the same spectrum.

But here's a case of LTE-TDD helping to salvage the most notorious telecom project of them all -- the Australian NBN. It's being used in regional Australia as in-fill, or where copper and fiber aren't viable. Under the current plan, 93% of connections the NBN provides will get either fiber or a combination of fiber, coax and copper. TDD fixed wireless access (FWA) will account for 4% and satellite the remaining 3%.

The NBN is halfway through the rollout of 600,000 TDD connections in regional and rural Australia, offering 25 Mbit/s on the downlink and 5 Mbit/s on the uplink. A 50Mbit/s service is planned for later this year.

Wholesale operator NBN Co Ltd. and vendor Ericsson AB (Nasdaq: ERIC) are clearly pleased with the results. Ericsson went to far as to sponsor an Ovum Ltd. worldwide comparison study, which found the Australian deployment outperformed virtually all comparable overseas operators in most categories.

Only one other operator matched its speed of up to 50 Mbit/s. When it came to the monthly data allowance -- critical in encouraging adoption of higher-bandwidth services -- the 250GB limit was seven times better than the closest international comparison. On price, the story looks equally good -- the price per gigabyte is four times below that of the nearest competitor, T-Mobile Czech Republic a.s. .

But the NBN is also buoyed by some hefty public funding. In fact, each fixed-wireless connection was made possible by a A$7,000 ($5,107) government subsidy, Paul Fletcher, the parliamentary secretary to the Minister for Communications, told the MWC Shanghai conference last week.


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With that kind of money, globally competitive pricing is probably the least taxpayers will expect. The Ovum report doesn't factor in the public funding in its price comparisons.

Håkan Eriksson, head of Ericsson Australia, New Zealand and Fiji, says most of the deployment costs are in the towers and the fiber or microwave backhaul, with the antenna and baseband equipment accounting for a small part of the total. In fairness, one should also note that it was the expense of rolling out in these marginal locations that required government support in the first place.

Eriksson says that once supporting infrastructure has been built, the TDD network will be highly scalable and economical. Because it uses off-the-shelf components and equipment, it will also be much more cost-effective than a bespoke solution.

He reckons the solution would also work just as well using FDD technology, but that TDD frequencies are more suitable for FWA in these locations.

It's not just Ericsson that sees an opportunity in this niche. Huawei Technologies Co. Ltd. is also making a play for TDD-based FWA. It unveiled its WTTx (wireless fiber to the x) solution at Barcelona, making use of MIMO and carrier aggregation to deliver up to 400Mbit/s downlink bandwidth.

— Robert Clark, contributing editor, special to Light Reading

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