The next development in wireless broadband

In the USA the FCC has started the discussion on the next level of telecoms in the wireless market, aimed at making spectrum in bands above 24GHz available for flexible-use of wireless services,  including next-generation, or 5G networks and technologies.

New technologies such as massive-MIMO are going to make it possible to deliver ‘fibre-like’ speeds over short distance wireless networks operating in the 24+GHz bands. This will make the technology especially useful for high-speed broadband services in densely populated areas.

Because this spectrum is only useful over relatively short distances, the base stations will need to have fibre optic network connections. Most mobile base stations are already connected to fibre, and fibre-connected buildings are ideally suited for the many more base stations needed for these new wireless technologies.

It is expected that these new services will be able to provide high-speed broadband at very competitive prices.

While there are calls to also make this spectrum available for unlicensed services the mobile industry will push hard for their use of the spectrum, and they will again be willing to pay billions of dollars for it. And governments will be very tempted to simply take that money. However it is expected that some capacity will be available for unlicensed services.

A question that remains unanswered is how wireless networks will handle capacity.

Currently 4G networks offer excellent broadband services and, as long as the usage is limited, the prices are competitive. However, as soon as the mobile networks are being used for entertainment services such as Netflix the affordability drops significantly. Looking ahead, more and more of these entertainment services will be delivered over broadband and more and more people will move from traditional TV to these broadband-based services. At the same time the quality is moving from HDTV to 4K and it remains unlikely that these services can be supported by wireless networks at affordable prices.

However, if fixed networks operators are not providing FttH infrastructure, and are thus not going to be able to deliver the broadband quality that people demand, the wireless industry will look for new opportunities and will push the boundaries further and further.

Progress has been made here also. Already off-the-shelf point-to-point wireless links operating in the 70-80GHz bands can provide as much as 6/6Gb/s over distances of 1500-2500 meters, and at those frequencies the beams are exceedingly narrow so many links can be placed on the same rooftop.

Furthermore, this is not simply about FttH networks. Most cities still don’t have a city-wide fibre-based backbone structure that is, for example, able to service their increasing number of apartment buildings. Here we see companies such as netBlazr in Boston providing a high-speed wireless backbone system to beam capacity to the roofs of these building and then linking this to existing internal Cat5 and Cat6 cabling for internal distribution.

Based on this configuration they are able to provide 300/300Mb/s service to residential apartment or condo dwellers (for $59/month) and with new technology developments they are currently upgrading selected buildings to 500/500Mb/s (at the same price).

In the case of Blazr most of this wireless infrastructure is using the 200MHz-wide band of spectrum at 24GHz which is licence-exempt in the US (and many other countries).  With readily available radios they can get 1/1Gb/s of capacity over a 24GHz link and the beams are directional enough (3 degree beamwidth) that we can locate many separate links on the same rooftop, interconnecting a building with many other buildings.

Their usage costs are only a small percentage of their operating costs (<3%).  When several hundred customers have been aggregated with 300/300Mb/s service, peak traffic (typically 9-11pm) averages 1.2Mb/s per customer.  Many of their customers are younger and are cord-cutters.

Paul Budde

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