Sunday, 27 September 2020

Closing the digital divide in the UK – is mmWave a worthwhile alternative to FTTH?

by Harry Baldock, Total Telecom
Tuesday 08 September 20

Total Telecom recently caught up with Siklu Communication’s European Regional Director, Luke O’Kelly, to find out about the benefits of mmWave technology in bridging the digital divide in the UK

One of the objectives of the Connected Britain programme is to close what is known as the “digital divide” in the UK, that is, to eliminate the categories of “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to enjoying true broadband services.  Today, the average broadband connection speed in the UK is 94 Mbps.  This figure is simply unacceptable given the demonstrated rise in demand for remote working and remote education services -- both of which have a substantial video component, streaming video services, gaming and other interactive services and more.   It is not a far-fetched idea that today’s residential and business customers need Gigabit connections in order to fully take advantage of today’s (and tomorrow’s) online-based services and entertainment.  Therefore, a debate has arisen as to the best way or ways to achieve such high-speed connections.  Fibre-optic might first come to mind, but recent advances in technology and the efforts of groups such as the Facebook…

One of the objectives of the Connected Britain programme is to close what is known as the “digital divide” in the UK, that is, to eliminate the categories of “haves” and “have nots” when it comes to enjoying true broadband services.  Today, the average broadband connection speed in the UK is 94 Mbps.  This figure is simply unacceptable given the demonstrated rise in demand for remote working and remote education services -- both of which have a substantial video component, streaming video services, gaming and other interactive services and more.
 
It is not a far-fetched idea that today’s residential and business customers need Gigabit connections in order to fully take advantage of today’s (and tomorrow’s) online-based services and entertainment.  Therefore, a debate has arisen as to the best way or ways to achieve such high-speed connections.  Fibre-optic might first come to mind, but recent advances in technology and the efforts of groups such as the Facebook-backed Terragraph initiative have made what is known as “millimetre wave” Gigabit wireless technology a very attractive option in this regard.  We sat down with Luke O’Kelly, European Regional Director for Siklu, to learn more about this fascinating technology.  
 
As noted above, people might think of fibre-optic first for very high-speed broadband connections.  Is the prospect of “fibre everywhere” achievable and does it make alternate approaches a moot point?
 
Connecting every single home or business to a fibre optic line is very difficult for a variety of reasons and there are proven, more cost-effective Gigabit-speed wireless alternatives to fiber.  
 
One main issue here is one of time – fibre deployments can take a very long time given the amount of trenching and other procedural necessities involved.  It can literally take years from project conception to completion.  Another problematic issue is that of expense and It is well-established that setting up a wireless network is always less expensive and faster than trenching fibre in both green field and brown field situations.  In some brown field areas, it is simply not possible to lay fiber due to historic zoning restrictions, various insurmountable physical obstacles or because of the disruption of trenching to daily activities. 
 
To deliver Gigabits to the home or business via a wireless network, there is really only one way to go – and that’s by using the vast swaths of interference-free spectrum available in the high mmWave bands, specifically, what are known as the “E” and “V” bands.  Those bands are so effective they are sometimes referred to as “wireless fibre.”
 
This quality is important as there is a significant fibre footprint in major cities, in particular, and this mmWave equipment is a perfect complement to fill in gaps and to connect the last 500 meters or so between a fibre endpoint and customers. Further, where there is a minimal fibre presence, the bands have the range to tap into a fibre optic line up to 10 kilometers away to deliver true broadband connections to communities that otherwise may have to wait years for Gigabit-speed services.
 
 
If millimetre wave has so many advantages, why is it not more prevalent today? 
 
Frankly, the technology was seen previously as suited only for “niche” applications and the industry has had to dispel certain notions about the range and strength of the signals and interruptions caused by temporary obstacles such as heavy rain and more permanent ones such as foliage.  However, mmWave is now truly on an equal footing in terms of speed and has a cost advantage due to the great advances in wireless technology made over the last few years – as seen in the progress made from 3G to 4G and now 5G networks.  And this mmWave technology is an excellent example of what’s known as “fixed” 5G networking.  Today hundreds of service providers around the world are connecting millions of residential and business customers using this mmWave technology.  
 
And fixed, Gigabit-speed wireless access is receiving a huge boost from efforts such as Terragraph, which is now rolling out in the UK.  Recognising the vast potential and capabilities of the V-band, Terragraph was set up in a way to continuously drive down costs by creating an industry standard solution (based on IEEE 802.11ay) from chipsets to network equipment and customer-premises equipment.  By establishing a single standard, multiple suppliers can participate and service providers do not have to worry about interoperability issues.  All of which makes it easier to establish the volume production levels needed to drive down costs – which is especially important when it comes to the customer premises equipment.  As a result, Terragraph can be a better alternative to provide fiber-like connectivity at a significantly lower cost.
 
 
Exactly where does it make sense to deploy these mmWave systems – rural, suburbs, large cities?
 
For the reasons described previously, mmWave truly does fit in all these geographical settings and multiple neighborhood configurations.  Advanced mesh networking capabilities in, for instance, the Terragraph model make it ideal for more urban areas.  Furthermore equipment providers such as Siklu have made great strides in making their equipment easier to install.  With advanced software planning tools and either in-person or online assistance, the industry has significantly streamlined the process of first establishing the network and then connecting customers to it.  This ability addresses situations where skilled labor may be hard to secure.  Therefore, in urban, suburban and rural areas, service providers have a real opportunity to use mm Wave systems to create a “first mover” advantage
 
 
In terms of next steps, are there any regulatory, permitting or other issues that are blocking deployment of mmWave?
 
Part of the attraction of the V-band is that it is unlicensed, which makes it significantly less expensive to deploy when compared to fixed wireless networks operating over licensed bands used by the MNOs.  Both the V and E bands offer tremendous amounts of spectrum to deliver the Gigabits people need and governments around the world are waking up to the possibilities.  For instance, regulatory bodies in the U.S. and Israel recently took steps to promote greater usage of the E-band.  Furthermore, these bands have been used increasingly for Smart City projects around the world, which is creating greater recognition of their capabilities and acceptance of them from a more local perspective.  
 
 
Luke O’Kelly, Director of Sales Northern Europe, Siklu Communication will be presenting at this year’s Connected Britain virtual event. He will share his thoughts on how the UK can deliver gigabit connectivity to the much needed urban areas and rural single family homes. Register for your Connected Britain pass and have a chat with the team.  
 
 
ABOUT SIKLU
Siklu delivers multi-gigabit wireless fiber connectivity in urban, suburban and rural areas. Operating in the mmWave bands, Siklu?s wireless solutions are used by leading service providers and system integrators to provide 5G Gigabit Wireless Access services. In addition, Siklu solutions are ideal for Smart City projects requiring extra capacity such as video security, WiFi backhaul and municipal network connectivity all over one network. Thousands of carrier-grade systems are delivering interference-free performance worldwide. Easily installed on street-fixtures or rooftops, these radios have been proven to be the ideal solution for networks requiring fast and simple deployment of secure, wireless fiber. www.siklu.com
 

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