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Fixed Wireless Access 21st Century Review

It’s a Gigabit World and not just for business. Consumers are part of the push and are demanding gigabit connections to support bandwidth intensive applications such as 4k or even 8k video, Augmented and virtual reality and more. Led several years ago by Verizon deploying FIOS offering gigabits to residential customers, and now being pushed hard by cable companies and DOCSIS 3.1 – gigabit service is here to stay.

While there is a push to extend fiber to every building, home and structure, the fact is this is not economically viable nor is it necessary.  New breakthroughs in wireless enable gigabit connections and more at a cost that is comparable or in many cases much less than traditional cable or fiber FTTX networks. That doesn’t mean the death of fiber, far from it. Wireless will always connect to a fiber POP at some point, but what wireless can do is extend fiber that last 100 feet or last mile at a cost that consumers will pay and service providers can profit.

Fixed Wireless Access Over Time

Fixed Wireless Access has been around since the mid-nineties, using 1Mbps Frequency Hopping systems in the 2.4GHz band.  Then as now, the breakthrough for Fixed Wireless Access began when WiFi Direct Sequence chips came about offering not only much lower costs but 11Mbps as well.

 

 

These systems offered basic point to pint configurations or very rudimentary PtMP systems and were installed by the tens of thousands around the world.  It wasn’t long however before even the blazing speed of 11Mbps was not enough. Furthermore, the amount of spectrum in 2.4GHz, the lifeblood of any wireless technology was limited to roughly 80MHz.

Once again it was the demand for higher speeds coupled with the introduction of wifi baseband chips that ushered in the next era of Fixed Wireless Access, the 5GHz era which we still see today, although in declining numbers. Initial 5GHz systems used 802.11a technology, implementing OFDM and offering 54Mbps came on the market in the early 2000’s.

Also of note was the fact that the 5GHz band had a total of 325MHz in the upper and lower bands, and if the mid band with radar detection and avoidance was added yet another 400MHz is available.

Fast forward 15 years and once again market demand is pushing Fixed Wireless Access to higher speeds – this time all the way to gigabits per second. In order to deliver these services wirelessly, the wireless systems need lots and lots of spectrum, on the order of many GHz. The only frequencies that offer this many Hz are the mmWave bands, both V-Band from 57 to 71GHz and E-Band with paired spectrum in 71-76/81-86GHz. Adding these two bands together and a total of 24GHz is available.

With these new products coming to market, for the first time ever Fixed Wireless Access can offer comparable services to cable and fiber, and at a much lower cost. When wireline and wireless are blended together, the resultant solution is fast, cost effective, and can be deployed extremely rapidly.

 

What is Fixed Wireless Access?

When people hear about wireless networks, they almost always think of the one that is closest to them – their mobile or cellular network. Today’s 4G and soon to be deployed 5G wireless mobile networks do a fantastic job of delivering high speeds, hundreds of Mbps to a device that fits into your hand. Able to support and maintain connections whoever you are, and without regard to being on a train, in a car or riding a bus, is an incredible feat. There is a vast array of technology both in the Radio Access Network (RAN) and in the “cloud” where the mobile core is located to enable these networks. And as advanced and amazing as these networks are, it is because of this very tough problem and the resultant design that mobile networks are not the best suited for Fixed Wireless Access.

Yes, you can use mobile networks for Fixed Wireless Access, but the cost of the license in $B, and the additional complexity and hence cost needed to support mobility means they are much more expensive than a comparable Fixed Wireless Access network covering the same geography.  When you add in the ARPU for fixed access ($0.07/Gigabit) and compare it to the ARPU an operator receives for their mobile network ($1.84/Gigabit) the business case for using mobile networks for Fixed Wireless Access crumbles.

In the Fixed Wireless Access domain, there are 4 main types of systems available.  Each has its pros and cons, and this leads to the primary applications that each is used to serve.

Fixed Wireless Access Type

Primary Applications

Typical frequencies

Licensed PtP

Mobile Backhaul, some Fixed Wireless Access

Between 7GHz and 38GHz, traditional microwave bands

Licensed PtMP

Mobile networks

Sub 3GHz

Un licensed PtP

Fixed Wireless Access, some Mobile Backhaul

5GHz, some 24GHz and 60,70/80GHz

Un licensed PtMP/mesh

Fixed Wireless Access and Smart Cities

5GHz, 60GHz

 

Today Fixed Wireless Access systems operating in the mmWave bands are delivering 5G services around the globe. In this case the 5G is not mobile, but fulfills the three main definitions of 5G:

  • Gigabit per second connections
  • Low latency – single digit msecs
  • Connecting lots of “things”

For the mmWave bands, 60GHz is completely open and unlicensed, while the E-Band 70/80GHz are lightly licensed.  Meaning for $10/year and a simple one-page application anyone can deploy E-Band PtP links.

Key benefits of Fixed Wireless Access

As can be seen above, Fixed Wireless Access is predominantly deployed using unlicensed frequency bands. Because of this any Wireless Internet Service Provider or service provider can deploy and operate a Gigabit Wireless Access network at any time, needing only a solid business case. And with no expensive licenses.

Historically this has led to frequency congestion as more and more devices are installed.  The 5GHz band has reached that saturation point and it is now very difficult to deploy networks in these bands in any urban setting.  In San Francisco alone a single 5GHz installation ran into over 200 interfering sources, WiFi APs and other Fixed Wireless Access gear, in one location off of Market Street.

For the current generation of Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) or Gigabit Wireless Access (GWA), there are three main factors that assure what happened in 5GHGz will not happened in the V and E-Bands.

  1. Massive amounts of spectrum – with 14GHz for the V-Band PtMP available, even with massive channels of 1GHz or 2GHz there are still many channels available.
  2. mmWave beams at these frequencies are very narrow, as narrow as 0.5 degrees in some instances. This means there is very little “RF pollution” as the signals are aimed very precisely at the other receiving terminal.
  3. mmWave signals are highly attenuated. While this does mean these networks must operate in Line of Site, and are good for ranges from 1000 feet to several miles, it also means the amount of self interference in a densely deployed network is not a concern.

There are numerous additional advantages offered by Fixed Wireless Access systems today.

  1. Rapid deployment – by using unlicensed or lightly licensed bands operators can deploy at anytime, anywhere. This opens the market to innovative service providers who may lack the wireline infrastructure and/or cannot afford to bid on licensed spectrum.
  2. Innovation with multiple vendors – the equipment needed for Fixed Wireless Access is ripe for innovation with new features and more extensive software support. With the base-band and radio available in a chip, this not only ensures low costs but allows companies to focus their R&D dollars on other aspects of the system.
  3. Robust eco system – again with Fixed Wireless Access being based on chips sued for WiFi, FWA is able to leverage Wifi volumes in the component level for lower costs

 

Where is Fixed Wireless Access used?

Now the obvious question – if Fixed Wireless Access is so great, where can I use it? And the answer is literally everywhere.  Everywhere geographically and everywhere from an application perspective.  Fixed Wireless Access systems are used in just about every country in the world.  There are places where wireline network infrastructure is limited such as Africa, South America and Southeast Asia and Fixed Wireless Access is coming in as the first option for connectivity for all the reasons cited above.  And then there are countries with massive fiber or other wireline networks but still needing gigabit connections for that last mile - the US, Europe, Japan, Korea and more represent markets where Fixed Wireless Access is booming.

Use cases for Gigabit Wireless Access abound:

  1. Cities – before smart was smart Fixed Wireless Access was being used to connect municipalities. From public Wifi backhaul, video security to basic city office connectivity Fixed Wireless Access has been serving this need for years.  Now with the increased capacity demands, mmWave Fixed Wireless Access is stepping to the fore and represents the next generation of Fixed Wireless Access technology for Smart Cities.
  2. Internet Access – two simple words that cover a multitude of markets and deployment solutions. Providing Internet Access to residential customers, in single family homes, condos, apartment complexes, trailer parks in cites or the country. Or delivering connections with SLAs to businesses at even higher speeds in dense urban environments or on Main Street in Small-town USA, Internet Access is a very broad application that Fixed Wireless Access serves extremely well.
  3. Industrial – mines, airports, ports, oil fields and more all are deploying sophisticated command and control systems that rely on low latency and high capacities. In many cases wireless is the only option available – not a lot of fiber being run to oil drilling platforms or in open pit mines.

Siklu mmWave Technology

With Fixed Wireless Access wherever there is a need for connectivity, there is a solution. The choices available from PtP to PtMP, from 10Gbps full duplex tower systems to 1Gbps terminal units as small as your smart phone means the applications for Fixed Wireless Access are only limited by your imagination.

Future of Fixed Wireless Access

Its hard to gaze down the road for Fixed Wireless Access when we are already in the middle of a once in a decade explosion of Fixed Wireless Access speeds and markets, but one thing is for sure - the need for speed will never go down, only up.  The future of Fixed Wireless Access will be focused on more Gbps at a lower cost, easier installation, and cognitive network controllers managing thousands of rf nodes in real time to ensure optimal network performance.

In the RF domain new chips are entering the market that will add advanced features such as MIMO, higher gain antennas, channel bonding and more will continue to support more Gbps at longer distances. New (where what was old is now new) topologies such as mesh which is supported by Facebook’s Terragraph (TG) project will address LOS requirements and ease installations.

At the MAC layer Fixed Wireless Access systems are introducing TDMA structures to enable advanced QoS control, new mesh MAC protocols to extend QoS support. Centralized scheduling at the node level up to the entire network are on the horizon as well.

Tighter integration of Fixed Wireless Access networks with other wireless systems and wireline as well, will deliver consistent end to end performance for carries and their customers.

Fixed Wireless Access Today

Fixed Wireless Access has been around for over 20 years, ever since the first customer needed a “high speed” ISDN like connection of 128kbps and could not get it from the local LEC using traditional wireline networks. Back then as now, creative smart people saw a need and developed technologies and products to serve those needs. But the latest generation of Fixed Wireless Access has made distinct strides towards mass adoption by offering competitive speeds to fiber and cable, and doing it at a cost that fuels profitable business plans. With Fixed Wireless Access a carrier for the first time ever has the ability to go into a competitor’s territory where they have no infrastructure, and offer competitive services.

And not just carriers, but wireless service providers, cities, landlords and more are all benefiting from today’s Fixed Wireless Access.  With an open approach drawing new ideas, new suppliers, new carriers Fixed Wireless Access is stepping up to the table – making the phrase Gigabit for all more than just a slogan.

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