Delivering broadband speed in underserved markets

20.02.2019 - Steve Collins

Delivering broadband speed in underserved markets

There are efforts worldwide to bring broadband to everyone. There is no one-size-fits all approach and it is critical to choose the right solution for the population to be served. Intelligent network design and existing technologies can meet the performance needs of today, and scale for the increased expectations of tomorrow.

Broadband speeds are often inflated to represent the best possible service level. Customers sign up for services expecting what is promised, but frequently receive less. Worldwide, operators are beginning to come under scrutiny to back their speed claims.

In the UK, automatic compensation may soon be awarded to millions of broadband customers who do not get the speeds they pay for. And in Australia, a process of speed checks is being put in place by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission (ACCC) following the introduction of principles that require internet service providers (ISPs) to provide accurate information about typical busy period speeds.

In some parts of the world, we are seeing a regulatory push to protect consumers. This underscores a problem that many people understand all too well: the promised maximum possible performance for some overshadows the minimum performance that is actually delivered. Even in areas without such regulatory scrutiny, there are large disaffected populations that would switch to a new provider if one became available.

Customers base the efficacy of their broadband connection by how often they must wait for content to load. When performance degrades from the advertised rate, the shortfall is caused by network contention, network capacity, or limitations in the delivering technology.

Around the world, many remote and rural households (39 per cent in the US) still lack access to high-quality broadband. Consequently, billions in public spending is being directed towards coverage for all. The nature of the underserved market has brought with it a focus onto wireless broadband.

“As user uptake of streaming, gaming, and VR entertainment expands, it is crucial that operators focus on services that can deliver both sustainable throughput, performance and known latency.”

Many of the world’s largest operators have their sights set on fixed wireless as the most efficient and cost-effective technology to deliver a minimum performance standard of 10Mb/s downstream and 1Mb/s upstream to those living in underserved areas, with the ability to provide service of 25Mb/s downstream and 3Mb/s upstream to meet the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) high-quality metric.

There is always a certain percentage of the population that can be covered by wired infrastructure. The traditional “mobile” network is often viewed as a catch-all for the remaining hard to reach areas. Unfortunately, difficulties in planning for coverage and congestion make this a poor choice for broadband, as speed and performance cannot be guaranteed.

Fixed wireless uses the same underlying technology as mobile wireless, but differs in that the customer units can be aimed at the target cell towers, simplifying capacity planning and allowing flexibility to add channels and sectors as additional customers come online.

While 5G is a technology that is getting significant hype, it is unclear whether this new technology base will deliver timely, cost-effective, or significantly advanced solutions as compared to LTE-Advanced (LTE-A) for fixed wireless in the near future. Rather than wait for 5G, savvy operators are now building out fixed wireless networks using a 4G LTE-A technology base in order to learn how to deliver this new style of broadband service. These operators are adding new (very happy) customers, while building an operational foundation for future data demands and serving as a launch point for future 5G services.

There are some important technical considerations to make before executing a fixed wireless deployment. Cell performance can be maximised using an outdoor wireless active antenna (OWA) for the customer premise equipment (CPE), which integrates a high gain directional antenna with the latest 3GPP technology features. As a rule, antenna performance improves when the number of supported bands can be reduced. Limiting the number of bands, or keeping bands in the same range, allows the antenna to be optimised, effectively increasing the cell size and increasing the number of customers who could be served.

New LTE-A features such as higher order QAM (256 QAM downlink/64 QAM uplink is the minimum for 2017) will increase throughput performance and optimise spectral bandwidth – increasing network efficiency. Higher order QAM will only be obtained in the field if the appropriate link budget is engineered into the system design.

LTE band selection is a key parameter of the system. The best in class fixed wireless systems use dedicated bands, apart from the mobile network. As mentioned earlier, this not only allows optimal antenna performance, but it allows sites to be designed and managed for both scalability and capacity, while minimising co-channel interference. High bands, including CBRS, are more typical for fixed wireless installations.

Customer expectations are at an all-time high, and the bar will continue to rise as the online experience becomes ever more immersive. As user uptake of streaming, gaming, and VR entertainment expands, it is crucial that operators focus on services that can deliver both sustainable throughput, performance and known latency. In the hard to reach or underserved areas, this is best achieved using fixed wireless.

Operators should strive to deliver an assured level of performance by establishing a broadband connection that can be engineered, directly managed and monitored.

To deliver a rural broadband service which exceeds the minimum performance standards and is operationally efficient, operators need to consider an installation process that includes domain-specific installation tools designed to maximise signal, minimise interference and reduce installation time. The CPE should support multiple management protocols and be able to fit into any existing back-end ecosystem.

Steve Collins

Steve Collins

Chief Technology Officer, Netcomm Wireless.

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