One thing that the tech industry needs is more backhaul. It’s more than just connecting homes. It’s making each location as efficient as
possible. While business and enterprise need more backhaul, how do they get it? We all need fiber, is there going to be enough? Let’s face it, running fiber is not cheap.
The fiber providers out there have done a pretty good job of putting plenty of strands down. That is until 5G rolls out. Now we need more, more, and even more. How are we going to gain more bandwidth with the fiber we have? Chances are good that we can’t, we will need to lay more down and use all that we have.
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FWA = Fixed Wireless Access
FTTH = Fiber to the Home
FTTP = Fiber to the Premise
Is fiber key?
Fiber is critical. It’s a critical necessity of moving ahead, especially with 5G. We need to have fiber deployed to as many places as possible. It needs to be accessible where broadband is needed. Even for IOT, if we want low latency, then we rely on fiber. It’s the foundation of any backhaul at some point.
Fiber is a crucial factor in any broadband access and to any 5G deployment. The question is, how do we extend it?
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First off, why do we need an alternative to fiber?
The problem is the time to lay fiber and the cost. Fiber is costly to deploy because of the process, permitting, zoning, and approvals.
The process is a straightforward one. It is where we must plan what we want, how much we want, and try to future proof what we can. Growth needs to be estimated. Anyone who deploys fiber will tell you they could roll out any time.
Lead time from the factory could be an issue. Depending on what you order and how much, it could be over 8 weeks.
That’s not the real delay in rolling out fiber, nor is it the real problem. Running fiber in a city could be an issue for several reasons. Do you need to dig up pavement, a road, or a sidewalk? This is one issue.
Who owns the rights to the pole? Who can get access? What is the rent? What restrictions do you have on the poles?
Then there is the permitting, which the city may or may not grant you, that is another delay.
Then there is the “dig once” policy. If you want to lay fiber, you may need to wait for 3 or 4 other companies that will lay fiber so you can do it all at the same time. Also, if the city wants fiber, you may have to do them a favor and lay it with your fiber to help speed things up.
Do you get it? Delays and roadblocks, all part of the process. This is where the cable companies have an edge. They have pole rights. They have a run to every home regardless. They plan the new development with developers. They have the processes and plans laid out. They footed a lot of the expense so that they don’t have to do it again and again. They have agreements with the cities. While they did all this, they are in a good position. You would think they would run more fiber, but what I have seen is that they tend to stop others from running their fiber. So, this will make the cities look at the process and reevaluate what should be done.
How do we extend the fiber?
We are going to have to get creative. This is where Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile have vision. They have the new spectrum, and it will be used for more than the internet to homes. It is going to have a viable business use and for the backhaul to their own small cells for densification. Probably CRAN as well.
However, there are options for the rest of us. The higher spectrums are not all licensed. While they are very short-range, they are good enough to connect buildings, small cells, and other solutions. There is spectrum anyone can use, the lightly licensed and the license-free in the higher spectrums like 60GHz, 70GHz and even 80GHz. Here you can install the gig links.
It’s not just the big carriers, I have installed gig links years back. It works, but it had limitations.
For instance, it is very line of sight, and rain can affect it. Also, it is what it is, meaning that if you put in a gig link, then that’s all that is will ever be. Generally, these radios are installed at max capacity, and the only way to increase it is to add another radio. Please be aware, that all the carriers that used microwave in the past replaced as much as they could with fiber for a reason. Fewer alarms and growth.
In the case of a macro site, wireless can get you on the air quick, but it has the limitations I listed. So generally, people use wireless until they need more, then they add fiber. They may keep the wireless as a backup unless the rent is too high.
Now, the radios cost less, the deployments are getting easier, and radios can do more and more. Some are even allowing for more than 1Gbps, which is what we need. It’s changing the way we look at wireless access.
Who can do this?
Anyone can put in a wireless link. I’ve done it several times. Like many of you reading this have. The key is to make money. If you are in the market now, you know that the design and installation costs are near rock bottom. The carriers won’t pay much, and the OEMs won’t pay much, they look at it as a commodity. What does that mean? It means it’s time to move on and drop that business.
Fiber, on the other hand, is a necessity. So, we wait for fiber, and we pay for fiber. We also pay monthly for it. Fiber is deemed valuable. We need it.
What are the carriers doing to get around running fiber everywhere? Sprint has been using UE backhaul. (learn more at https://wade4wireless.com/2015/10/19/what-is-lte-ue-backhaul/ ) Sprint has been using their 2.5GHz spectrum and putting in very cost effective links. It has limitations, but it’s easy to install and configure. It seems to work well. Just like their “Magic Box,” same concept and it works for small cells. This is what they intended to do for the small cells and mini-macros on poles they tried to roll out with Mobilitie.
Here is where the other carriers could utilize the mmwave. It is going to offer even more bandwidth than the 2.5GHz could because each link will be semi-dedicated for that backhaul. So, one fiber run could, in theory, provide 10 or more macro, mini, and small cell sites 1Gbps. Again, in theory, I didn’t test this or anything, but now we are making the most of fiber. We cut down the last 200 feet run costs. We got the remote cell, business, enterprise, IOT radio, whatever, connected and working on a broadband backhaul with low latency. That is going to free up more CapEx and OpEx money for other things.
After all, the wireless link is also becoming a commodity. It must be utilized the best it can, including every fiber drop. While this is a detail, it is a detail that could save money, real money, on backhaul.
What is the fixed spectrum the US carriers have?
The carriers here in the USA have been sucking mmwave spectrum, let’s break it down.
- Verizon has over 100MHz of 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum.
- AT&T has over 100MHz in 28GHz and 39GHz spectrum.
- T-Mobile has 78MHz in the 28GHz
- Sprint has 200MHz in 14.5 to 15.35GHz spectrum.
- US Cellular has 10MHz in the 28GHz band.
What about WiGIG?
Here is the unlicensed spectrum, (ISM band), that the FCC released. I am not sure how this will be used, but it looks viable for an indoor solution. I really tried to figure out who is using this.
What is WiGIG? The FCC released unlicensed spectrum from 64GHz to 71GHz, extending the 60GHz band. It is 802.11ad broadband which we call WiGIG. Before we just had the 57GHz to 64GHz spectrum to play with. So, we went from 7GHz of spectrum to 14GHz.
If you’re interested, then go to IEEE’s tutorial at http://www.radio-electronics.com/info/wireless/wi-fi/ieee-802-11ad-microwave.php to learn more.
To be honest, this sounds cool, but I am trying to figure out how it will relate to the real world. Some OEM or vendor is going to have to get creative and build use cases around this. How will they use it, what are the physical limitations, like walls and weather? What is the distance it can work? Will it work outside reliably? We will have to wait and see.
Then, if the proof of concept works, what devices will adopt it? Wi-Fi is in everything from your smartphone to your laptop and maybe even in several devices around your home. Like your TV, speakers, iPods, and so on. Someday I hope LTE-U is in everything, but it’s going to take years, maybe decades, for that adoption to happen.
What about the CBRS?
OK, I usually brag about the CBRS at some point, but I really look at that as a last mile solution for the end user. I don’t think there is enough spectrum, in the current plan, to do much for the fiber extension. However, it would work well for the IOT functions if the radio is low latency. I am just saying; this solution should be used where it is the most effective.
Why IOT? Because it does not require the bandwidth that many other users will need. Let’s separate the use cases. Broadband versus low latency. While the CBRS will be valuable in the LAA LTE solutions, it may not be that critical to fiber extensions.
Just like WiGIG, I am looking forward to seeing the CBRS be on every device, exciting!
How do we plan backhaul?
This is tricky. The carriers know that they must plan it carefully. Let’s look at what they will be looking when they plan. I made a list:
- What will this site need off based on population and usage projections?
- Will this site feed other sites?
- Is fiber accessible to this site?
- Is wireless an option? Wireless could be the backhaul or the fronthaul to another site.
- If there are feeder sites, what is their usage projections?
OK, that wasn’t so bad, was it? Simple projections will suffice. Your team should know this is going in, but there are always surprises. So, let’s look at more questions to align with making it as future proof as we can.
- What is the expected growth?
- What is our budget for this site? Looking at OpEx and CapEx around the site needs.
- How much fiber is available?
- If wireless, do we have the height, mounting space, rental agreements? Also, what would the site acquisition fees be? Was this considered during installation?
- Can the lease be modified to add more equipment if needed?
- Can the fiber provider give you another strand or two if needed?
It takes some planning to get this right. I didn’t cover everything, obviously, but you get the idea. It’s enough to get you started and to allow you to talk like you know what you’re doing.
Planning is essential, but when doing a mass deployment, you may try to make everything as cookie cutter as possible. I get it, to take that much time for each site may be a problem. If this is the case, five your site acquisition team a heads up of what your intentions are. Look at the market or region you’re going in and decide of what it will take to add FWA or FTTP. Maybe you can come up with simple questions for this as well.
- Can fiber be run overhead or is it underground only?
- Can we get through the permitting process quickly?
- Is there a dig once policy? If so, what is the lead time for the next dig?
- Is there room at the site for another dish/antenna for wireless access?
- If FWA, is there line of sight to the other location?
- If FWA, is UE an option?
There you go, another high-level plan and checklist.
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