How the Government’s broadband targets can be achieved, wirelessly

Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third party professions to comment on the industry’s biggest challenges today. In this piece, Jaime Fink, co-founder of Mimosa, explains how wireless technologies can help meet the Government’s broadband expectations of 10 Mbps for all.

Internet service providers (ISPs) in the UK are under increasing pressure from consumers, businesses and government bodies to deliver more ubiquitous, ‘superfast’ broadband. The government’s Digital Economy Bill, which was introduced in May this year, is seeking to make it a Universal Service Obligation (USO) – a legal right – for every home in the UK, by 2020, to be able to request broadband download speeds of at least 10Mbps. Access to the internet and digital services, is becoming increasingly important to consumers and businesses across the UK, yet there are still many areas that suffer from extremely slow and unreliable broadband, putting them at a considerable disadvantage.

The Government’s plan to improve the UK’s broadband infrastructure is a constructive move that could power the UK’s digital economy for years to come. Whilst most service providers will be aiming to deliver much more than 10Mbps to the majority of the UK, with speeds of 1Gbps promised in some areas, the legislation will certainly help to strengthen the UK’s broadband infrastructure, ensuring that everyone has access to the internet.

Larger service providers such as Openreach (BT), Virgin, Sky, and Talk Talk will, more than most, be feeling the growing industry pressures to rapidly grow and improve their broadband networks, as between them they have a monopoly over the UK’s broadband services.

However, looking at the current broadband infrastructure in the UK, it is clear that new approaches are needed to support the internet applications of today and the data rich services of tomorrow. The legacy DSL copper cable foundations underpinning much of the UK’s broadband infrastructure fall short in performance and reliability. Conversely, fibre, which is often touted as the primary solution for delivering superfast broadband across the UK, is certainly not without its challenges. Installing fibre-optic cabling is both an expensive and hugely disruptive task, particularly in dense urban areas. With the logistics of digging trenches and at three times the cost of its copper counterpart, fibre roll-out is taking far longer than anticipated and leaving many areas lagging behind when it comes to connectivity.

With pressure building, ISPs across the UK need to look at new methods for high-speed, cost-effective expansion of broadband, to bridge the gap between expensive fibre and low performance copper. It must have the scale, speeds and capacity to meet the ever growing appetite for data, and offer the reliability that people expect from a next generation broadband service.

ISPs need only to look across the pond to the US, where new broadband market entrants such as Google and Facebook are turning to fibre alternatives in the form of fixed wireless. Only this summer it was reported that Google Fiber’s Silicon Valley rollout is being delayed as the company explores the cheaper option of wireless technology. Understandably so – the technology offers the equivalent speeds and reliability of fibre broadband connectivity in any environment.

Fixed wireless broadband involves the use of small, non-disruptive outdoor access points (APs), which can deliver fibre-speed broadband, reliably, and with new advanced spectrum reuse techniques can efficiently be deployed across densely populated area. These sites can be connected directly to fibre or leverage short or long range wireless point-to-point connections to access nearby fibre. This makes the technology ideal for both hard-to-reach rural locations where fibre ends, and urban areas where delivering fibre to each subscriber is cost prohibitive, or impossible due to the disruption caused.

Fixed wireless access can also take advantage of low-cost unlicensed spectrum. It does this by using massive multiple antenna (MIMO) technology, designed to improve the capacity of a wireless connection, with Antenna beamforming technology, to concentrate signals in the directions where they are needed. This means fixed wireless can coexist and avoid interference with consumer deployed 5GHz Wi-Fi, even though they share the same spectrum. Subsequently, it does not have to rely on high-frequency millimetre wave bands, which while widely available, will struggle to perform in outdoors urban environments where near line of sight operation is critical.

For the incumbent ISPs such as BT/Openreach, wireless broadband now makes it commercially feasible to extend their broadband services to areas that have traditionally been financially and logistically challenging. However, the opportunity doesn’t just end with the established service providers, as the technology offers inroads for new challengers to muscle in on the incumbents. Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) can use fixed wireless technology exclusively, competing directly on the speed and price of their wireless services. Equally, mobile service providers that currently don’t have a fixed broadband offering can easily move into the space, integrating wireless broadband solutions into their portfolios.

The advent of fixed wireless technology is music to the ears of ISPs across the UK, which will be watching closely this month as the finer details of the Digital Economy Bill are scrutinised in the House of Commons, and we move closer to the official legislation being passed. Fixed wireless broadband offers a cost-effective, scalable solution for superfast broadband to be delivered across the country, which during this turbulent economic period, will help the UK impose its digital supremacy to the rest of the world.

Mimosa Jaime FinkAs Co-founder and Chief Product Officer of Mimosa, Jaime is driving a disruptive wireless alternative solution for gigabit fixed Internet and Wi-Fi applications. With his prior experience as CTO of 2Wire (acquired by Pace), Jaime pioneered delivering IP services to the home over Fiber and xDSL. At Mimosa, he now aims to surpass the capacities of legacy wireline technology and deliver multi-gigabit access solutions at a fraction of the cost. Previously, he headed Product Management at Polycom, and Zhone Technologies. Jaime holds a BSCE from the University of California, Irvine, USA.

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