Fibre backed fixed wireless broadband and why it’s such an important product set for bigblu
All the world wants fibre broadband, that means fibre to the home (FTTH) or to the premises (FTTP) not just to the cabinet (FTTC) which isn’t fibre at all. But the reality is that the commercial case to extend fibre networks to many rural or low-density areas just doesn’t stack up. As the cost of ‘civils’ (the expensive bit of installing fibre, the digging up of the roads and driveways to lay the cables) continues to escalate exponentially, the huge cost of extending fibre networks is becoming more and more transparent.
In most European countries the fibre roll out by the incumbent telco or major broadband players is pretty much complete. If not, where they plan to install fibre is at least clear and so the ‘will haves’ and the ‘won’t haves’ of the FTTH story are becoming more clear.
So, what alternatives are there to deliver a future proof, fibre like broadband service today, with little or no delay, at a cost which is commercially viable?
The next generation of satellites in build will deliver a fibre like service from the sky across Europe from mid-2019 onwards, with 100 Mb + speeds and unlimited data allowances. Satellite is a great answer where property density is very low i.e. where a few properties are spread over a wide area or where there’s no fibre infrastructure for miles.
But what if properties are grouped together in villages or hamlets? Enter stage left fixed wireless broadband (FW) - a truly cost-effective way of extending fibre networks into rural areas.
FW works by using the latest radio and antenna technology to transmit and distribute broadband connectivity, sometimes over quite significant distances. FW networks are relatively inexpensive to build compared to digging civils and installing FTTH, something like one fifth of the cost per premise. The radio networks that are installed are connected to locations where true fibre exists. We call this ‘backhaul’ and so the FW networks are just an extension of the fibre.
So, you can think of FW networks like the trunk, branches and twigs of a tree. The trunk is real fibre, and the FW networks extend like branches and twigs from, that sometimes 30 or 40 miles or more from the original fibre network. Sometimes we also use wireless point-to-point technology to extend the original fibre connectivity into very rural areas.
The engineers who make the decisions on what mix of technologies and radios we use to deliver that service are highly skilled; we use all manner of different hardware, technology, frequencies and spectrum to deliver the kind of modern broadband service our customers want. Usually that means a 100+ Mbps, unlimited broadband service that rivals fibre for throughput and latency. The customer doesn’t need to know what hardware or frequencies we use to get their service to them, they just want a robust, resilient service that delivers on today’s typical family demands of multi-user, multi-device streaming.
Quickline Communications (QL), the UK fixed wireless subsidiary of bigblu, has recently launched its first gigabit (speeds of up to 1 Gbps) capable customer wireless networks at a trial site in Auckley near Doncaster in South Yorkshire. Using newly developed mmWave technologies and utilising 60 GHz unlicensed spectrum newly released by OFCOM, QL now plans a larger scale trial near Skegness. Precise speeds depend on the customers requirements and expectations, but many are connected at over 300 Mbps, true 5G performance, one this last week was connected at over 800 Mbps. Not many consumer fibre networks outside major cities can yet support these kinds of speeds.
Whilst QL has been deploying gigabit services to business customers for some time, up until now the cost of the customer equipment has meant that these services were really only suitable for larger business customers. Utilising newly developed customer premises equipment (CPE) able to operate in the 60 GHz spectrum and pioneering techniques for installing cheaper fibre backhaul, QL has proved that mmWave technology has a real part to play in future roll outs of its wireless services.
In 2018, QL won a BDUK grant for £2.1 to develop and conduct field trials for next generation 5G fixed wireless broadband services using old and now unused analogue TV white space frequencies. This technology QL with its partners has successfully developed to deliver a true FW super-fast broadband service in deeply rural areas with heavy tree cover, mainly from its existing mast infrastructure, something that hadn’t been possible before.
Here at bigblu we’ve always known that it would take a patchwork of different broadband technologies often working together and in harmony, to deliver the ultimate in broadband service coverage. What we strive for is complete, ubiquitous coverage in every one of our business territories with a service level and price that delights the customer.
FW broadband is a key technology in our toolbox to deliver this and is used to connect substantial numbers of our customers, particularly in the UK, Norway and Australia.