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Is wireless an advantageous alternative to fibre?

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Eckart Zollner, head of business development at Jasco Group, weighs up the pros and cons of wireless versus fibre.
Fibre to the premises (FTTx), be it home or office, is a very hot topic at the moment. Virtually everybody living or working in urban areas has seen some sort of fibre activity happening, with trenches being dug and fibre termination points cropping up on many street corners.
With a surge in the demand for Internet television and other ‘on demand’ multimedia applications, the need for fast, reliable internet is constantly growing. This begs the question, though, what is the scope for wireless technology in an increasingly fibre-hungry environment?

Keeping up
While fibre is fast being deployed to urban areas, there are still many cases of fibre not answering the demand for connectivity fast enough. In certain instances, businesses can wait up to two years for fibre to reach their area.
Because fibre requires such a large capital investment, many fibre providers need to ensure they have amassed sufficient demand in order to justify deploying fibre to a specific area – an endeavour which can in itself take months to achieve. Even then, once the provider has confirmed that there is enough interest, the actual deploying of the fibre can take a further several months – sometimes years – to accomplish.
Wireless technology can neatly fill this gap. Fast to deploy and, while not quite matching the performance capabilities of fibre, certainly more effective than ADSL, wireless technology should not be overlooked as a quick and effective answer to the demand for business connectivity.

The wireless advantage
Most organisations are still unfamiliar with wireless technology, and it still carries a rather bad reputation for poor quality in the market. Despite this, service providers have a ready and expansive market for wireless technology if businesses are made aware of the many cost and throughput benefits thereof. With greater access to converged and centralised services, and greater automation within businesses, demand for wireless point to point (PtP) services for connectivity is growing.
Organisations are increasingly adopting hosted and outsourced services for email, business applications and even backup or disaster recovery services. These can be served to them via last-mile wireless PtP connections. Wireless PtP solutions offer organisations the benefit of fast deployment, reasonable costs and, thanks to technological advancements, increasing stability.
Businesses do not need to own wireless infrastructure and can rent equipment from a provider over the contract duration, helping to significantly lower costs, while giving them access to the latest wireless technologies. Wireless service providers are also able to make use of shared infrastructure to deliver services to multiple customers in a single area, spreading the costs and lowering the price of service delivery. Add to this the fact that, with a wireless PtP solution rental, businesses don’t need to employ technology skills or resources to manage it, and It spend is further reduced.

What’s the catch?
Wireless backhaul is faster than fibre to install, but it does require some preparation and planning in order to achieve best results and almost fibre-like connectivity. Where a public unlicensed wireless network frequency is used, only best effort connectivity can be provided.
To achieve guaranteed throughput, licensed spectrum is required – which can take some time to arrange. The service provider then also needs to ascertain that there is no interference before implementing the service. Additionally, because wireless last mile is typically a dedicated solution – that is, it’s a point to point connection usually involving installation of an antenna with line of sight to the service provider’s closest mast – it is difficult to be shared and the cost of implementation must usually be amortised over a period of up to three years – making for locked in contracts. However, the cost of the service is usually similar to the cost of fibre services.

What about WiFi?
WiFi is a short-range technology that is best suited for point to multi point (PtMP) hotspot connectivity, especially for indoor applications. Most Wifi networks rely on a single serving hotspot, so services are dependent on a single point of failure.
In addition, as Wifi operates in an unlicensed frequency spectrum, it can be prone to congestion and interference from other WiFi networks or devices in the area, which can lead to a degraded service. New developments for Wifi aim to move into different frequency bands for improved reliability and longer range, which allows for more effective outdoor applications and potentially better quality of service.

The future of wireless
As the market becomes aware of the benefits of wireless technology and the advancements made in this arena, there is likely to be an increased uptake of wireless PtP solutions as either a primary connectivity solution while waiting for, or to replace, fibre, or as a redundant solution in addition to fibre services.
WiFi is likely to continue to play a significant role for local access technology and will further be utilised by the growing market for machine to machine (M2M) applications. It will undoubtedly remain as the dominant technology in the home, to connect smart appliances and equipment.
The adoption of highly reliable, high bandwidth Fifth Generation (5G) technology should also see an increase. 5G utilises higher frequency bands and can combine multiple radio signals, enabling high bandwidth broadband comparable to fibre speeds available. This will allow convergence with the Internet of Things (IoT) as 5G enables M2M communication to run on the same network as voice and data. It also improves reliability through self-healing and overlapping network topologies. Whilst early trials are already beginning on 5G technology, we expect that 5G services will become commercially available by 2020.