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

Thursday, October 24th, 2013 (8:23 am) - Score 2,277
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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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By Mark Jackson
Mark is a professional technology writer, IT consultant and computer engineer from Dorset (England), he also founded ISPreview in 1999 and enjoys analysing the latest telecoms and broadband developments. Find me on Twitter, , Facebook and Linkedin.
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