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Fixed Wireless 4G LTE Broadband Networks Face Challenges in Rural Areas

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 (8:23 am) - Score 2,274
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Telecoms analyst firm Analysys Mason has warned that operators like EE, which will soon launch a new Home Fixed Wireless service using its 4G (LTE at 1800MHz) Mobile Broadband technology to help connect isolated rural areas in the United Kingdom, will face a number of challenges not least with the high cost of mobile data.

EE’s new service is expected to be based off a similar setup to their £1.5 million Fells Ends Broadband pilot in rural Cumbria (England), which costs from £15.99 per month per subscriber and extends across seven Parishes in the Northern Fells area (details). The deployed Fixed Wireless 4G platform claims to deliver speeds of 8-12Mbps, although future upgrades could deliver 2-3 times faster connectivity.

Last week EE confirmed that this would be the basis for a new service that will shortly be made available to other parts of the UK (here). But are 4G based connections the best solution to rural woes and are they really cheaper than deploying fibre optic based connectivity over the longer term? Analysys Mason’s Principal Analyst, Rupert Wood, recently told an industry briefing in Dublin (Ireland) that an LTE-only approach would face problems.

In particular Wood noted that “fibre-based broadband” solutions often delivered “better performance” and “lower costs” in large village clusters, which made it a “better investment than LTE“. By contrast Wood said that LTE had initially lower operating costs but a problem occurs when data volumes grow. On top of that having to pay for specialist external antennae’s doesn’t help its case.

Rupert Wood explained:

The business case for LTE in rural areas is better if usage is lower than would be typical on a monopoly infrastructure, but data caps and/or high prices may not be politically acceptable. The incumbent’s case for LTE is significantly improved by opex savings if copper is decommissioned, but the underlying problem remains – the incremental cost of data transport on LTE is much higher than on fixed.”

Many 4G networks can also suffer from more aggressive traffic restrictions than their fixed line counterparts and most adopt IP address sharing as standard, which can cause problems for some services. On the other hand a 4G network would be significantly quicker to deploy than fibre as you don’t have to worry about digging cables to every home, although some time must still be allowed for the antennae installation.

It’s interesting to note that the problems raised by Wood are also broadly the same as those that prevent 4G from becoming a true substitute for fixed line connections in general. It’s hoped that some of these cost and flexibility barriers might begin to be broken down as 4G evolves and 5G surfaces over the next 5-10 years.

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10 Responses
  1. I am fed up with the sophistry of language around broadband delivery mechanisms. Surely, if Fibre-to-the-Cabinet can be described as “fibre-based”, then so can 4G, otherwise know as “Fibre-to-the-Mast”.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Ummm no 4g’s local loop is wire-less

    • Avatar Karen

      Which using that logic would mean fixed line products for 99.9% in this country are copper based local loop

    • Avatar FibreFred

      ADSL is pure copper loop. VDSL is FTTC, part of the FTTX family ttp://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fiber_to_the_x

      Not sure how you jumped from me citing wireless to your example, odd.

    • Avatar Karen

      And thus the local loop in the sense you have defined it (The final delivery) is copper. The actual initial loop for 4G is obviously fibre and not “wireless”. Nobody has magically found a way to pipe bandwidth to millions without cables being involved somewhere.

  2. It depends if they run it from ‘fibre to the mast’ most masts are relays.
    If they are taking fibre to rural masts it makes sense to have it open access so the communities could join their own fibre to it and build futureproof networks of their own. Mobile is not the solution to rural areas, mobile is the icing on the cake. We need both fixed and mobile to be ubiquitous if we want to be a digital nation.
    Pratting about with stop gap solutions is not the answer, we need affordable fit for purpose connections now, not a fast train for a few in another 20 years. Its time someone in government woke up to reality, and put their resources into the future not the past. We need fibre and we need it now. We need mobile too. Most rural areas don’t have even 2G services, so I can’t see them putting new masts up in a hurry, and the existing ones don’t have coverage everywhere. Its a bit like saying ‘let them eat cake’ but in reality it means ‘apres moi le deluge’ and history will remember these politicians who sold us down the river and left us in the digital slow lane.

    • Avatar TheFacts

      So if a mobile operator has a fibre link to a mast it will be dedicated for that service, and not connected to the internet.

      What do you mean by an open access fibre? The community can rent a circuit which may use the fibre duct, but it won’t be part of the mobile network.

      Detail is important.

    • Avatar FibreFred

      Not really sure what world you live in Chris, so EE or a.n.other has a mast with fibre and you expect them to let you hook up your own community fibre to it?

      Really?

      Saying that you expected network rail to let you lay fibre over their bridge so.. it makes sense….

  3. Avatar Michael

    I presume that EE have learnt a number of technology, economics and operational facts as a result of running the pilot, which must be informing their launch of a service at their cost.

    I for one applaud any service provider who continues to build a workable business solution for rural areas.

    I also agree that the devil is/will be in the detail.

    If they use 800Mhz instead of the presumed 1800Mhz – what then ?

    Many mobile operators run 500Mbps backhaul to masts using microwave, with plans to go to 1Gbps shortly

    Mobile is generally faster to deploy than fibre – if the masts already exist.

    If they package this a a fixed line service – NOT mobile, then it could be supplemented with a mobile service from the mast as well providing a mixed revenue stream.

    After time – if takeup and revenue indicates it may then drive deeper fibre.

    Other countries have done this – Germany most notably – so why not the UK ?

  4. Avatar DTMark

    “Wood noted that “fibre-based broadband” solutions often delivered “better performance” and “lower costs” in large village clusters”

    “clusters” is the key in that sentence, that being where VDSL is suited as long as the cabinet is in the centre of said cluster.

    3G provides, or provided 12Mps+ here (top speed about 21Mps) for years – something appears to have gone wrong with it now and it has an unacknowledged technical fault.

    4G provides 18Mbps+ here (top speed about 25Mpbs on a 2 bar signal with dongle alone), and the tech is more capable upstream than VDSL. Even with said signal I see 20Meg up.

    30GB/mo with Three 3G is about £45 with a convoluted contract setup and £90 with 4G. The former might be acceptable especially if you don’t have to pay phone line rental; many would baulk at the latter. And that’s only 30GB/mo. We see data demands rising rapidly now.

    But all of this really depends on whether you’re talking about maybe half a dozen people in a rural area using it, or 200 people. If the latter, I can’t imagine a shared resource of 42Meg or 100Meg is going to “cut it”.

    Wireless can hit 300Mbps as far as I know, but that’s still only ten people sitting down at 7pm to watch some streamed TV in the not too distant future.

    VDSL can deal with the contention but can’t “reach” beyond said “cluster” with good 4G style speeds e.g. it cannot “burst” beyond the laws of physics.

    Wireless when deployed properly can outperform both, but the contention will be the killer in the end based on current tech.

    Time to re-examine the goals I think. If what we’re talking about is “2 Meg for all” then even 3G or 4G should suffice. If we’re talking about superfast for all, then fibre to the premises is the only thing I can think of which does suffice.

    Except perhaps 5G.

    So before doing anything much I’d suggest setting the minimum bar for something to be called “broadband” to a sensible and low target of perhaps 10Meg down 2 Meg up and then evaluating area by area.

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