Early adopters embrace private 5G

Posted on September 27, 2023

Early adopters embrace private 5G

The appeal of private 5G is driving companies to explore ways to improve the performance, scalability and flexibility of their mobile networks.

Enterprise deployment of the technology has been slow due to the pandemic and an immature device ecosystem, but that’s not stopping early adopters. To help get started, they’re turning to service providers, which can include telcos, private wireless vendors, hardware vendors, systems integrators, and major cloud players.

Here’s a look at how three private-5G deployments were rolled out.

Sports arena amps up visitor experience with private 5G

The Wells Fargo Center recently rolled out 5G, using Comcast Business to help set up the network. The Philadelphia sports arena is home to the Philadelphia Flyers of the National Hockey League, the Philadelphia 76ers of the National Basketball Association, and the Philadelphia Wings of the National Lacrosse League.

The deployment in the Wells Fargo Center uses a mix of 600 MHz and CBRS spectrum, according to Brian Epstein, head of strategic wireless solutions at Comcast Business. The CBRS component included a combination of CBRS Priority Access Licenses and CBRS General Authorized Access unlicensed spectrum.

“The private 5G network was ideally positioned to deploy small, less-intrusive cameras when and wherever we needed them,” says Phil Laws, the general manager at the Wells Fargo Center. Previously, the arena was using wired connections.

The cameras are used to focus on Gritty, the mascot of the Philadelphia Flyers hockey team, as well as Lou Nolan, the voice of the Flyers for 50 years.

“The 5G camera deployed at his position this season brought his famous ‘power play’ call directly onto the video board in an organic way that we had never tried before,” says Laws. “This deployment was seamless without needing cabling or really any preparation at all. Very point and shoot.”

The network was also tested for use streaming data to LED screens located on the sidewalk outside the arena. “Traditionally, displays on the exterior requiring regular updates have been fed using wired networks that fix them into a position forever,” he says. “With this type of deployment, the displays are free to roam where power can reach them. This will allow us to make adjustments to their use and position depending on the event need.”

The Wells Fargo Arena deployment also uses Nokia’s Digital Automation Cloud platform, an end-to-end private wireless networking and edge computing platform that includes radio, baseband stations, and software.

The 5G network is able to support other bandwidth-intensive and low-latency applications, says Comcast’s Epstein. “For example, with video streaming, mobile phones are used to shoot HD video that is distributed to screens on the scoreboard,” he says.

Specialist builds private 5G testbed

MxD set up a private 5G network at its manufacturing innovation facility in Chicago with help from wireless-infrastructure company Betacom, which recently added 5G-as-a-service to its suite of offerings. Betacom’s service can include network design and installation, as well as ongoing security and operations monitoring and management.

MxD is the nation’s Digital Manufacturing Institute and the National Center for Cybersecurity in Manufacturing, which partners with the Department of Defense and about 300 companies, including Boeing, Rolls Royce, Siemens, and John Deere.

“We started looking at 5G three years ago,” says MxD technical fellow Tony Del Sesto. The first project was using AT&T to set up a 5-mm wave 5G system. Then, a month ago they went live with a new private 5G network that uses midband 3.5 GHz CBRS spectrum, according to Del Sesto,

The goal is to test both approaches to 5G, and to allow manufacturing companies to come in and experiment with them, which is important because different 5G frequencies can perform differently on factory floors depending on local physical factors. “It’s hard for manufacturers to do tests in their own facilities,” says Del Sesto. “Especially when you’re running a business and can’t interrupt your operations.”

Using millimeter wave means having to work with a telco, he says, but that doesn’t mean that data has to leave the facility. “Even though it’s on a public network, it can circulate locally in the factory.”

Millimeter waves can offer extremely high speeds and bandwidth. “Shorter wavelengths don’t go through walls very far,” says Del Sesto. That means that facilities using those shorter wavelengths need more antennas to provide the same coverage.

On the other hand, with CBRS, a mid-band spectrum, a manufacturer doesn’t have to work with a telco, he says, and can operate the system itself. “I’m not going to say that one system is better or worse,” he says.

With either option, a factory can replace Ethernet cables with wireless connections, making it easier to move factory lines around and allowing for self-driving vehicles.

The biggest problem for enterprises today, Del Sesto says, is that the tablets and sensors and other IoT devices factories use aren’t yet ready for 5G. That will come, he says. Until then, factories might want to experiment with 5G gateways that gather data from IoT devices via wired connections but backhaul to data centers via 5G.

“By putting the sensors on a gateway, you usually save a bunch of installation money,” he says. “And there’s the flexibility. If you need to move a factory line, it’s a lot easier to move the gateway than to reroute all the Ethernet cable.”

Australian Football League taps system integrator

Marvel Stadium, an arena owned by the Australian Football League, chose to go with systems integrator Accenture for its private 5G network. Accenture partnered with Google Cloud and Australian telecom Telstra for the deployment, which is set to go live in in March of 2023.

The private 5G network will allow fans to navigate the stadium using smartphones. They’ll also be able to hold up their phone cameras to receive information about the environment or to access content such as player statistics and promotional communications from the football league. Other applications include augmented reality (AR) multi-player games and pre-game AR shows

“Technology such as 5G, AR and cloud have a wealth of potential to create new and innovative experiences,” says Behren Schulz, Accenture’s director of design and innovation in Australia and New Zealand.

Click here to read the full article from NETWORKWORLD.

How airlines are working to improve inflight wifi

Posted on August 23, 2023

How airlines are working to improve inflight wifi

Alexis Hickox, head of global business development, Cabin Solutions at Collins Aerospace and Boeing’s inflight entertainment and connectivity strategy lead, Bryan Wiltse, reveal the latest in inflight wifi and connectivity thinking.

No matter how large the satcom antenna or well-stocked the server, wireless IFE and communications count on reliable, easily accessed wifi connectivity between aircraft systems and passenger devices.

And while messaging and streaming video keep the customers in the cabin happy, airlines are also finding an increasing role for wifi-enabled data transfer, not only for aircraft health monitoring and safety services, but also inflight planning and crew communications.

Compare your mobile phone, tablet, laptop or games console to the latest product online, and chances are it’s already not the latest model – obsolescence in 12 months is easily achieved and for a long lead time industry that’s as tightly regulated as aerospace, keeping pace is a major headache.

The airlines and connectivity providers have themselves compounded the challenge with years of claiming their service brings a home or office experience to the sky. Some industry insiders claim the experience has improved so quickly that inflight connectivity has struggled to keep pace.

The reality is that when it comes to moving data on or off the aircraft, physics and technology have so far denied airlines the ability to offer a genuine home/office experience to individual passengers, regardless of the quality of service on the ground. With technology continuing to advance, the gap between expectation and delivery is narrowing.

Bryan Wiltse says the OEM works hard to keep pace. “Boeing is constantly evaluating technology and working with expert suppliers in the connectivity space to provide the most current systems available. We work through rigorous evaluation processes to ensure the technology is safe and ready for introduction on a commercial airplane, while the focus on industry standards and standardised installation allows for easier upgrades as technology evolves.”

And, he agrees: “The consumer electronics industry very much drives what we’ll see next in airborne wifi and connectivity. Passengers and airlines will expect the next device, experience or functionality to work in the air as it does on the ground. This will drive future functionality within the connected airplane.”

Inflight wifi, aircraft cabins

Alexis Hickox, head of global business development, Cabin Solutions at Collins Aerospace, has worldwide responsibility for the company’s cabin connectivity business, primarily from the passenger perspective.

She says several elements are responsible for delivering a great wifi passenger experience, including the right broadband network: “We use Inmarsat’s GX aviation network, which is perhaps the highest performing available today.

“Passengers are particularly annoyed by ‘black spots’ between satellites, or their connection dropping off because of patchy satellite networks, put together using capacity provided by different operators. GX is provided by one party, with satellite coverage from overlapping beams, plus spot beams that can be directed at busy areas, delivering a seamless internet experience.”

When airlines wirelessly stream content only from onboard servers, satellite connectivity is irrelevant to wifi efficiency, but when internet connection is offered, wifi becomes only the conduit through which poor quality service is delivered to a passenger device – continuously needing to log back on very quickly becomes ‘extremely onerous’, Hickox says.

Meanwhile, the process of creating a ‘connected airplane’ is changing. Many airlines are continuing to upgrade aircraft fleets for satcom and wifi connectivity, while new-build airliners are increasingly delivered either equipped with IFEC suites, or provisioned ready to accept them with minimal modification.

In fact, the process of installing cabin wifi, streaming IFE and/or satcom connectivity is perhaps less demanding than expected.

Wiltse notes: “All Boeing’s production airplanes are capable of accepting wifi system installations, although they remain a customer choice, and airlines must select them for installation. Post-production installations can be purchased through Boeing Global Services.

“The difference between a production and retrofit installation is minimal. Regardless, installations include the same system hardware – broadband satellite antenna and subsystem, file server and wireless access points. The differences, if any, will typically be in the system wiring and equipment location. We provide post-production support, while Boeing Global Services supports airline requests for connectivity.”

Inflight wifi: IFE, connectivity

Considering the work required to engineer an aircraft for wifi, Wiltse reports: “Boeing has not made any specific airplane design or material changes to support wifi systems, but we have completed extensive airplane-level testing to determine the most advantageous equipment installation locations to maximise wireless coverage within the airplane. These optimised installation locations allow for the best possible aircraft wifi environment for the passengers and crew.”

Collins Aerospace’s Hickox explains the essential architecture of a cabin wifi network. “A wireless LAN infrastructure, capable of supporting multiple user sessions simultaneously, is required. Collins Aerospace uses a Miltote offering, which we’ve integrated into our overall solution.

“It means each wireless access point [WAP] can support around 60 high-definition streams concurrently, plus 255 IP addresses. On a narrowbody we’d usually install four WAPs, and five on a widebody, providing coverage for 240 passengers concurrently on the narrowbody and 300 on the widebody.

“Looking at a Collins Aerospace solution from a hardware perspective, it first requires the satellite hardware, comprising a modman, Ka-band aircraft network data unit [KANDU], radio frequency unit, antenna and radome. In the cabin, the wireless hub is a gateway server, linked to the WAPs with cabling.”

Collins Aerospace focuses on providing connectivity through its wireless IFE, but Hickox says the wifi architecture for a ‘simple’ streaming system linked only to an onboard server, would essentially be identical.

Considering the cabin as a wifi environment, Hickox reckons delivering good coverage is really relatively simple, a statement that may surprise those of us whose phones pick up their home router 100ft away in the garden, but fail to see it from the adjacent room. “The aircraft cabin isn’t a difficult environment for wifi. And, using high-performing WAPs that cover a considerable range, we can create separate SSIDs, creating discrete VPN networks for the crew and passengers. Neither interferes with the other and they’re securely managed.”

Cybersecurity ought to be a major concern in just about every aspect of our day-to-day lives, including when we connect to a wifi network and onto the internet during a flight. Collins Aerospace manages individual passenger security from the ground, via a system employing Sandvine cybersecurity software.

Inflight wifi, personal electronic devices

“It manages the network, helping optimise the passenger experience and providing tools, including TCP accelerators, to ensure data is protected. Our service is PCI compliant, so all data is also protected according to local rules and regulations.”

Hickox mentions Collins Aerospace’s ground infrastructure frequently, and it’s clearly a key component in delivering its IFE and communications offering, right down to the wifi that connects passenger devices via WAP to the server and onto broadband.

What does the infrastructure look like? “We integrate into Inmarsat’s network and we have New York and London as our primary ‘meet me’ points. They integrate into our ‘private’ global network, which is able to route data back to airline headquarters, for example. We also have our own data centres and capability to interface into airline networks.”

Beyond happy passengers

Hickox notes that Collins Aerospace is primarily seeing its airline customers seeking connectivity solution as a means of entertaining passengers, enabling them to source their own, online amusement.

Happy passengers certainly help make profitable airlines, but Hickox acknowledges there’s considerably more potential in wifi connectivity than simply entertaining customers. Gate and other aircraft communications can speed flight preparations, inform preventative maintenance and keep passenger data updated.

Boeing’s Wiltse says there’s no need for airlines to wait for suitable technology: “The capability to connect the airplane from gate-to-gate is available today. The ground connection can leverage various types of technology – cellular, 802.11, 802.16 and so on.

“In addition, the capability for continued use of the satellite broadband connection is now approved. Moving data – passenger manifest, catering requests, airplane health, media content and more – can be accomplished in multiple ways both on the ground and in the air.”

Airlines are already exploiting the potential of wifi at its most simple – in the cabin – as well as employing it as an operational tool, but must carefully apply resources to the critical, ongoing task of delivering quality customer support; passengers are typically uninterested in the mechanics, or physics, of an IFEC system, until it breaks.

Inflight wifi: IFE, connectivity

Airlines, providers and OEMs are therefore well advised to have robust customer service provision in place as an essential component of their overall connectivity provision.

It’s a requirement Collins Aerospace recognises. Hickox explains: “We have a number of ground-based tools and operational systems providing customer support and the capability to monitor all the communications and hardware on an aircraft, through our satcom dashboard.

“It actually covers flight deck and cabin, showing any problems with onboard equipment. We also have a content management system that airlines have access to, so they can manage their passenger internet packages.

“It means they can analyse requirements on individual routes and tweak the specific internet offering to best serve their customers. So, there’s the passenger and content management side of things, including the AVOD and internet packages, which the airline performs directly, and then the operational side, where Collins Aerospace works.”

The company gathers performance and health data from the cabin wifi system in flight, just as it does from its IFE servers and satcom equipment. Information on aircraft movement returns to the ground via ACARS, enabling Collins Aerospace to follow it using its flight tracking functionality.

“We also monitor the connectivity status and aircraft communications, via the satcom network. It consumes a very small slice of the ‘pie’ of data coming off the aircraft.”

Personal devices

Anyone who’s enthusiastically tackled the packaging on a wireless speaker freshly arrived from Amazon will know that connecting even the simplest devices via wifi, or even Bluetooth, isn’t always quite as straightforward as it ought to be.

Inflight wifi to which a passenger can’t connect is perhaps almost as frustrating as a network that continuously drops out. And yet passengers from all over the world travel on airliners flown by international operators, bringing with them devices of various capabilities and specifications.

How does Collins Aerospace ensure they will all connect with the minimum of hassle?

“We support pretty much all operating systems and devices, but if we see an anomaly from a particular country, we test the affected devices in our lab as part of the programme implementation test phase. We test extensively to ensure our systems are compatible with indigenous devices and hardware.”

The process obviously requires that Collins Aerospace keep a close eye on the types of device likely to come on board when a new operator begins using its IFE systems, but there’s actually even more to it than that. “There’s also the challenge of what particular apps or messaging applications a country might have. We have to ensure our systems on the ground and in the air will interface with those as well.”

With the vast potential of satcom and wifi already extensively exploited, what’s next for the industry? Speaking for Collins Aerospace, Alexis Hickox first considers past challenges.

“Looking at the early providers in North America, the model was to provide full hardware and service, offering carriers a potentially low cost entry. I think the challenge now is for airlines to justify the investment in hardware and service provision, and the vendors need to help them find the business case that strikes the right balance between investment and return. It’s something Collins Aerospace can do well because we have so many systems on the aircraft and on the ground.

“Today, we find that when an airline is looking to move forward with internet provision, the evaluation stage is really about the business case and what they’ll do with the service. Providing internet to passengers is an important part and their expectation that it will be available is the major driver, but not the only benefit to the airline.

“Using the broadband link and secure flight deck wifi access for EFB applications, for example, or providing real-time, inflight data access and offload, deliver real operational advantages.

“Wireless IFE is also far more dynamic than traditional in-seat systems. Much of it is software-driven and airlines have considerably greater control over what they can do and when they can do it. Rather than having to wait for their IFE provider to support content changes, for example, they can do it themselves.”

Asked how Boeing sees its wifi future, Wiltse’s response is understandably circumspect: “The world has become more connected and the ever-increasing number of connected ‘things’ certainly provides intriguing opportunities within aerospace. Boeing is exploring the significant potential of this space.”

Click here to read the full article from Aviation Business News.

People are just realizing Wi-Fi speed is ruined by two common household activities – including heating problem

Posted on August 16, 2023

People are just realizing Wi-Fi speed is ruined by two common household activities – including heating problem

TWO household activities that many people do every day can negatively impact your Wi-Fi signal. They’re not always easily avoided, but it’s good to be aware of how they impact your Wi-Fi – and how you can make small changes to minimize their effect. That way you can try and plan important video calls or downloads for specific times.

How you clean and heat your home could be affecting your Wi-Fi

How you clean and heat your home could be affecting your Wi-FiCredit: Getty

The first activity is vacuuming your home.

Using your vacuum near your Wi-Fi router might disrupt your speed. This isn’t constantly happening and can depend on where you’re cleaning. Some interference is possible due to the electric motor in vacuums and the radiation they can emit. Once you switch the vacuum off or are at a suitable distance, any disruption should stop.

The second household activity that can slow your Wi-Fi is heating your home.

How you heat your home probably doesn’t come to mind when you think of your Wi-Fi performance but it can affect it. Underfloor heating can cause big problems when it comes to internet speed, according to Eye Networks. It’s definitely something worth considering if you expect your Wi-Fi signal to reach multiple floors. That’s because underfloor heating involves metal. Metal is a hard substance for Wi-Fi signals to penetrate. Anyone using hydronics to heat their home might also encounter some Wi-Fi issues. Hydronic heating involves liquid water or gas moving around pipes in your home.

Water is another difficult substance for Wi-Fi signals to move through. That’s because water easily absorbs the radiation sent out by your router, leaving a black hole with no signal around the area in question. To try and resolve these issues, move your router away from pipes and large amounts of water. Try and keep it raised and as central in your home as possible.

Click here to read the full article from The U.S. Sun.

A 5G wireless future begins with fiber

Posted on August 9, 2023

A 5G wireless future begins with fiber

In the soap opera that has become contemporary politics, every idea seems to generate vast amounts of polarized hysteria. Take, for instance, the seemingly innocuous announcement by Britain’s opposition Labour party in the run-up to the forthcoming general election of a plan to provide every home and business with a fiber broadband connection. That idea was simultaneously decried as a crackpot communist scheme and heralded as a visionary idea to revolutionize the country.

It was, of course, neither. But what it did—intentionally or not, and whatever your personal politics—was highlight the indispensable role that fiber broadband plays in the future of every developed and developing nation.

The future of communications is wireless, but the future of wireless is fixed.

The politics of 5G

It’s true that the future of communications is wireless, but the future of wireless is fixed. 5G mobile technology is going to be the star, there’s no doubt about that. But without fiber supporting it, 5G’s star will not shine nearly as bright nor as far as it should.

The technical arguments for why 5G needs fiber have been well documented and, fundamentally, come down to the simple math of needing high-capacity backhaul for the massive amounts of low-latency, high-bandwidth traffic that 5G will create. What’s less well documented are the economic and political arguments for supporting 5G with fiber.

Firstly, there is a simple fact that better communications increase GDP. From the invention of the telegraph to successive generations of mobile technology, each period of augmented connectivity is accompanied by an economic boost. Consequently, there is a clear correlation between a nation’s wealth, its mobile performance and fiber penetration. In other words, the regions benefiting the most from wireless communication have the best fixed access networks.

In providing that connectivity, it is the converged operators—those operating both fixed and wireless access networks—that demonstrate the best returns. Convergence tends to bring operational efficiencies, cost efficiencies and more customer value in the shape of bundled wired/wireless offers. In recent years, these returns have been driving M&A activity between mobile-only and fixed-only operators.


High fiber availability = faster 5G deployments = faster time to market

These macro-level observations on the mutually beneficial relationship between fiber and 5G are backed up by some micro-level explanations.

Firstly, avoiding 5G is not an option, at least not for long. ARPUs from current mobile services are falling around 2 percent per annum. 5G is expected to provide a 3 percent per annum uplift through innovative business applications and premium consumer services. But to realize these new 5G revenues, operators must invest not only in 5G but in mobile backhaul as well.

There are only two backhaul technologies that can cope with the high-throughput and low-latency demands of 5G: microwave and fiber. Microwave is the lower-CAPEX option but can only cope with 5G performance levels for a single hop in the range of about a kilometer. What’s more, 5G networks will require significantly more radio cells than 3G or 4G due to the increased capacity and reduced range of 5G. As a result, the density of backhaul capacity for 5G is many times higher than 4G. Whether operators choose an all-fiber or a hybrid microwave–fiber backhaul strategy, there will always be a need for a significant investment in fiber.

Richer nations with well-developed fiber networks can look forward to a 25 percent return on capital within 11 years.

So how do operators turn a buck? Some detailed analysis from Nokia Bell Labs paints a difficult picture. While every 5G deployment will make a loss during its first few years, the richer nations with well-developed fiber networks can look forward to a 25 percent return on capital within 11 years.

However, operators that need to deploy a significant amount of fiber could see a 60 percent drop in their return on capital in the first five years. That’s an untenable prospect, so it’s no wonder that the early 5G announcements are primarily coming from operators in countries that already have high fiber availability. Everyone else needs to come up with some innovative fiber investment strategies if 5G is going to take off.

Sharing is caring

The obvious solution is for the fiber investment to be shared somehow. The idea behind any common infrastructure investments—be they road, rail, electricity or communications—is that it makes economic sense for the cost of the network deployment (which has a long payback period) to be communized and for profits made from delivering innovative services by competing service providers to be privatized.

In our future 5G world, a common fiber network would ensure that operators and enterprises have open and economical access to fiber for 5G backhaul needs and so they can focus on the rapid development of service innovations for industrial customers.

Consider Stockholm in Sweden, where a public body responsible for a city-wide fiber network currently reaches 90 percent of homes and 100 percent of businesses. It is no surprise that Stockholm was one of the first cities in the world to be 5G-ready. A recent FTTH (fiber-to-the-home) Council Europe study claims that where there is FTTH, the incremental cost to make the network 5G-ready are marginal: you virtually get 5G fiber connectivity for free.

Similar fiber/5G symbiosis can be found in Singapore, South Korea, Hong Kong, New Zealand and Qatar. Different countries have, of course, different means and different starting points. Nevertheless, there are some common principles emerging:

  • A community- or country-wide commitment to and prioritization of digital connectivity in order to drive economic prosperity and living standards.
  • A joined-up approach to the infrastructure where transport, utility and communication networks are deployed in cooperation with and consideration of each other. This is perhaps where developing economies can play catch-up, building out their fiber networks as they develop other core infrastructure.
  • Governmental organizations and private enterprises cooperating to ensure fair opportunity for incumbent operators, alternative operators, and investors.

The economics of fiber infrastructure suggest that 5G’s potential won’t be realized by relying on market forces alone. A concerted socio-political effort will be needed as well.

Click here to read the full article from Nokia.

Why Fiber Is the Key to Getting Faster 5G Everywhere

Posted on July 26, 2023

Why Fiber Is the Key to Getting Faster 5G Everywhere

The government’s $42.5 billion investment in physical broadband infrastructure could be a game-changer for getting 5G to more places, from suburbs to rural communities.

During the pandemic, Liora Bram got even more accustomed to juggling work with family. As life began to open up in the spring, and her children returned to their regular routines of school and sports practices, Bram found herself running her small public relations business from her car as she waited for school pickup or on the sidelines at a baseball game.

She expected her new iPhone 13 and 5G wireless service from Verizon Wireless to help her take her home office mobile. But that’s not what happened. More often than not, she’s found herself unable to access critical apps like Microsoft Outlook because she can’t get a signal. Now she’s just accepted that in some parts of town she has no access.

Bram said she’s chalked up the poor service quality to the fact that she doesn’t live in an urban center and that the 5G signal just may not be robust enough yet. Her town of North Grafton, Massachusetts, is about 40 miles west of Boston. Her community of roughly 7,800 residents isn’t a dense suburban market, but she noted that it’s not exactly rural either.

“I just assumed that a 5G device and service would mean everything would be faster,” she said. “My phone is my lifeline for managing my work and my household. I just don’t understand why I can’t replicate the connection and experience I get at home wherever I am. That to me was the promise of 5G, and that’s not what I’m getting right now.

Kevin King, a director of communications for Verizon, said he isn’t sure why Bram is having issues, since the company’s coverage map shows that its 5G Ultra Wideband service is offered in her town. He also said the company is in the midst of expanding its C-band midband spectrum, which today covers more than 100 million people around the country and is expected to cover at least 175 million by the end of the year.

Still, Bram isn’t alone in her frustration. While we’re still a long way from seeing any of the much-hyped futuristic applications that 5G was supposed to bring, like autonomous vehicles or augmented reality, even the promised higher download speeds and super responsive networks have been inconsistent or simply unavailable to most people, especially those who live outside big cities or dense suburban communities.

But there’s a potential answer to her 5G coverage issue: more fiber.

Fiber-optic lines buried underground or strung on utility poles might seem counterintuitive when all you hear about are ads talking about wireless everything, but an investment in old-fashioned physical infrastructure is critical to ensure those wireless signals can get to more places and people.  That’s because those signals don’t actually travel that far — hopping between your phone and a local cell tower or base station that’s hooked into that physical infrastructure.

A driver with one hand on the steering wheel and the other holding a cellphone
The promise of 5G for many is being able to take their home office on the go, like while waiting in the car line at school pickup. Peter Dazeley/Getty Images

There’s reason to be hopeful on the fiber front. The federal government plans to pour more than $42.5 billion into broadband as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act signed into law in 2021. The money, which is being distributed through the US Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration directly to states, is supposed to ensure all Americans have access to affordable, consistent high-speed internet.

Experts have called it a historic opportunity to finally end the digital divide. While the program appears intent on getting fiber connected directly to people’s homes, wireless experts say it could also provide a much needed boost to core infrastructure that can be tapped for mobile 5G in less densely populated areas and rural regions.

Getting broadband — both wired and wireless — to more places is critical as the affordable housing crisis pushes more people beyond the suburbs in rural and exurban areas. That includes North Grafton, which is close enough to commute to a big city, but not dense enough to be considered a true suburb. Those regions have traditionally suffered from poor service because carriers worry there are too few customers to justify the investment.

“It’s a big deal,” said Ben Moncrief, executive vice president of C Spire operations in Alabama. The Mississippi-based regional service provider has been building a fiber network throughout Mississippi and Alabama to support its own regional wireless network and deliver fiber broadband to homes and businesses. “This kind of money, especially in rural areas, could accelerate 5G networks and help lots of small carriers get to places they otherwise weren’t able to get to because the population density is too low.”

But wireless experts concede that access to fiber isn’t the only help needed from the feds to make 5G in rural areas a reality.  Rural and smaller wireless carriers still need federal programs to help fund the deployment of next-generation service in these markets, too.

“Fiber alone is not going to get us nationwide 5G,” said Tim Donovan, senior vice president of legislative affairs for the Competitive Carrier Association. “It’s an important part, but there’s a lot more to it.”

5G needs fiber

It doesn’t matter which “G” or generation of wireless technology we’re talking about, all wireless networks need to hand off traffic to high-speed, hardwired infrastructure.

“The first rule of building a wireless network is to get signals out of the air and into the ground at the first available point,” said Gary Bolton, who heads the Fiber Broadband Association. “It’s like building a house, you need a strong foundation of infrastructure. And fiber is key, because it’s future proof.”

It’s this future-proofing that led C Spire to start investing in fiber infrastructure in the early 2000s. More than 20 years later, the regional carrier, which operates throughout Mississippi, the Memphis metropolitan area, the Florida Panhandle and parts of Alabama including Mobile, has several thousand miles of fiber-optic cable it uses for backhaul for its wireless business as well as a fiber-to-the-home broadband service.

“The company leadership recognized a long time ago that fiber was essential to improving the quality of the customers’ wireless experience,” Moncrief said. “It’s just capable of carrying such huge capacity.”

The investment has allowed the company to keep up with larger national players AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in offering the latest 5G service.

There are two big technical reasons why fiber backhaul is critical to 5G. First, because 5G is able to connect more devices and will eventually offer real-time feedback to fuel applications, like self-driving cars and advanced augmented reality experiences, it needs lots of capacity to carry all that data.

Second, true 5G relies on a mix of so-called midband and millimeter wave spectrum that operate at much higher frequencies than the low-band spectrum used to deploy 4G LTE. Because this spectrum is higher frequency, its transmission range is considerably shorter than low-band frequencies used for 4G. This means 5G networks that use midband frequencies in rural areas will need many more cell towers. And those cell towers will need access to more fiber backhaul.

“The future of 5G networks and really any next-generation network depends upon our ability to densify, enrich and build out as much fiber as quickly as we can,” said Chip Pickering, a former Republican congressman from Mississippi and now CEO of Incompas, a trade association advocating for competition policy across all networks. “Whether it’s 5G, low-orbit satellite, fixed wireless, small cell wireless network; the more fiber we have around the country, the more it enables all the other types of network technologies to be high capacity, highly reliable, and redundant.”

The promise of federal money

Building wireless and broadband networks in rural America is incredibly expensive, and in some places, it’s nearly impossible due to the terrain. But in most cases, the real barrier is low population density. Broadband and wireless providers simply won’t offer service if they can’t get enough customers to pay for it.

It’s a problem that policymakers have faced for decades as they try to close the digital divide. Despite billions of dollars being spent by the federal government to subsidize the cost of building infrastructure throughout the country, the lack of connectivity in rural America still persists.

This is where NTIA’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program and other programs funded by the Jobs Act come in. The Jobs Act allocated $42.5 billion to go toward building broadband access in areas of the country where it doesn’t yet exist. NTIA has also established another $1 billion program to provide funding for middle mile projects, which is the part of the internet infrastructure serving regional networks.

As part of its rules, the agency stated it will prioritize projects that will “provision service via end-to-end fiber-optic facilities to each end-user premises.” The main objective by making fiber a priority is to ensure that federal dollars are being spent on infrastructure that can be easily and affordably upgraded in the future. But NTIA also noted the importance of leveraging the fiber for other technology, like next-generation wireless because “new fiber deployments will facilitate the deployment and growth of 5G and other advanced wireless services, which rely extensively on fiber for essential backhaul,” the agency said in its published rules.

Access to fiber could be especially beneficial to smaller rural carriers, most of which can’t afford to build their own fiber backhaul networks.  According to a cost model analysis commissioned by CCA in 2021, the total price tag to offer ubiquitous 5G coverage in unserved rural markets would be about $36 billion. Access to fiber backhaul would put a big dent in that cost.

“If the fiber is readily available for carriers to access for backhaul, we can take that cost down by $6 billion,” CCA’s Donovan said. “So that’s a significant savings that can help get 5G built everywhere, even in the most rural and remote areas.”

Not as easy as it sounds

If NTIA is able to fulfill its mission of getting fiber deeper into more communities, it could be a game-changer for 5G in rural markets. And 5G in these markets means that the aspirational applications like autonomous vehicles or round-the-clock mobile medical monitoring can actually become reality, because to truly make these applications useful, a network needs to be ubiquitous even for folks just driving or passing through those regions.

But Donovan offers one big caveat: Small carriers still need access to this infrastructure, which is easier said than done. He said there are places today in rural areas where fiber already exists, but smaller carriers still can’t get access to it.

“If a fiber provider won’t make it available for a reasonable price, you basically have an interstate highway without an on-ramp,” he said.

Donovan also emphasized that backhaul is only one piece of the puzzle. Smaller rural carriers still need federal funding and support through the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund programs to make 5G a reality in rural and less densely populated regions of the country.

“We’ve been building wireless networks for 40 years now in this country,” he said. “If there’s a place that hasn’t been served yet, there’s probably a reason. Financial support through USF and other federal programs specific to the 5G deployment are still going to be an important part of fixing this issue, along with having access to wireless spectrum.”

For Bram and the hundreds of thousands of others out there waiting for 5G to truly come to their town, the ubiquitous coverage can’t come soon enough.

“Right now it feels like things were actually better with my old 4G phone and service,” she said. “And that’s really frustrating. All I want is for things to work consistently, so I can stop stressing.”

Click here to read the full article from CNET.

The 5G Fixed Wireless Access Vs. Fiber Debate

Posted on May 19, 2023

The 5G Fixed Wireless Access Vs. Fiber Debate

Many industry pundits, including myself, have pointed to 5G fixed wireless access (FWA) services as the early “killer” 5G application. Case in point, T-Mobile has built a significant FWA business in the U.S., leveraging its early lead with a complete 5G spectrum footprint to deliver both consumer and business wireless internet services. It’s wise for the magenta-hued “Un-carrier” to monetize its network investment beyond mobile phones because it does not offer fiber. FWA is also poised to become essential in bridging the lack of fixed broadband services in parts of rural America that are underserved by cable and fiber.

On the other hand, rival AT&T is building a formidable fiber network that offers multi-gig speeds and supplies critical backhaul for its mobile 5G network. AT&T has traditionally offered FWA services to its business customers, but it smartly leads with a “fiber-first” strategy that plays to its strengths. Last year I spent time with AT&T CEO John Stankey on a rural fiber tour; if you are interested, take a look at my writeup here.

With all that said, FWA’s early momentum is leading many to question whether it is simply a superior alternative to fiber. That’s a complicated comparison to unpack, but one I am often asked about, so in this article I’ll share my insights on the topic (and my love of Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em robots as a kid!).

Defining the architectural and infrastructure elements

Before jumping into the debate, it’s helpful to define the architecture and underlying infrastructure for FWA and fiber. FWA provides wireless broadband through radio links between two fixed points that operates on licensed spectrum over LTE and 5G networks. This serves a home or business through a wireless connection to a customer premises equipment (CPE) unit that typically integrates Wi-Fi. On the other hand, fiber employs optical cable trenched underground with last-mile connections made either aerially (usually from a telephone pole) or underground depending on the topography of the homes and businesses being served. Again, CPE devices serve as the termination points, but in the case of fiber they are physically wired to the carrier network.

The pros and cons of FWA versus fiber

FWA and fiber services each have pluses and minuses. FWA is easy to deploy in areas that have the requisite 5G spectrum coverage, and CPE devices can be shipped directly to customers with simple instructions for installation. No aerial or underground cabling is required, making it a clean deployment that doesn’t require drilling into exterior walls. However, FWA is limited in upload and download performance based on the spectrum band deployed. There are also capacity and speed limitations, given that FWA and mobile services compete for the same cellular network bandwidth.

Fiber’s superpowers are speed and reliability. AT&T and Google offer multi-gig capabilities and symmetrical performance—meaning that upload and download speeds are the same. Fiber is also upgradeable via modular optical components, making it highly futureproof and less costly to upgrade over time relative to FWA. I have spent time with AT&T and seen firsthand in real-world deployments the potential for future upgradeability beyond what is offered today. However, one of the downsides is fiber’s deployment cost, which plays out in a chicken-and-egg scenario. Areas of lower subscriber density such as rural America stretch out the time required for the operator to reach financial breakeven on their investment, which complicates the economics and extends the time to achieve positive average revenue per user (ARPU).

To address fiber’s economic challenges, AT&T is taking an innovative approach to extending fiber reach through its recently announced Gigapower joint venture with BlackRock Alternatives. Gigapower’s open-access business model could result in the exponential growth of fiber connectivity to serve internet service providers and customers outside of AT&Ts 21-state wireline service footprint. You can find those details here.

I recently spoke with Chris Sambar, head of AT&T Network, to get his perspective on the FWA vs fiber debate, given his team’s responsibility for the architecture, engineering, construction and operation of the company’s global network. Sambar rightly points out that FWA, although a great alternative for business critical failover, rural connectivity and use cases such as mobile food truck point of sale processing in my beloved hometown of Austin, Texas, often suffers in the long run with costly cellular infrastructure upgrades, expensive license spectrum and capacity limitations. This can result in higher subscriber churn, lower operator profitability and eventually higher prices for consumers and businesses.

Wrapping up

This all leads to the million-dollar question: Which is better, FWA or fiber? Ultimately, FWA and fiber are better together. Fiber provides the necessary backhaul for 5G deployments, supporting mobile and fixed wireless services. In geographies that are suitable for the cost-effective deployment of fiber, it is the optimal choice given its performance value. For those areas that are more challenging, such as in the mountains or outlying areas with smaller population densities, FWA is a logical choice. For the latter, mobile network operators and wireless internet service providers will have to ensure proper spectrum capacity and deploy a “layer cake” of 5G spectrum (low-, mid- and high-band) to maintain adequate levels of performance and reliability. Ultimately, access to an intelligent mix of FWA and fiber services will be a solid combination to ensure connectivity for all.

Click here to read the full article from Forbes.