Telecoms.com periodically invites expert third parties to share their views on the industry’s most pressing issues. In this piece Paul Wright, VP of Sales and Customer Operations at Cambridge Broadband Networks Group (CBNG), looks at what it will take to make a success of FWA.
As regulators worldwide prepare for 5G, some operators with enterprise Fixed Wireless Access (FWA) services are facing the total loss of their networks, especially in parts of Asia and Africa. The only alternative is to transition the entire network over to an alternative frequency, which is no minor undertaking.
The rollout of 5G
Pressure is growing globally to increase the rollout of 5G due to the benefits it promises of ultra-reliable and low latency communications, higher bandwidth and greater capacity, in comparison to 4G. In response, the Third Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) has determined that the FR1 bands, which range from 410MHz up to 7.125GHz, and FR2 bands, which run from 24.25GHz up to 52.6GHz, will be made available for 5G use.
FR1 has become popular with early 5G adopters due to it being able to provide a good range of distance with non-line sight of operation and indoor propagation. As a result, regulators are now freeing up spectrum within the FR1 band, in particular 3.4-4GHz, and changing the policies determining which bands should be used for what purpose. This is affecting service providers on FWA operating within the sub6 bands who now face losing their services entirely. Those operators are now being forced to very quickly look for different frequency bands to continue providing their services.
It is important to move over to a well-established frequency that has similar characteristics for service providers. The 10.5GHz frequency has proven itself as a great alternative for those jumping from sub6 bands.
Enabling a smooth transition
As many operators have tailored their network for a particular frequency band, transitioning to a new band is not a simple task. An operator will be used to providing a broadband service to an area over a period of time, and will have dimensioned their network for the exact requirements. It is a difficult migration, but technology and expertise can be utilised to ensure a seamless transition.
There are several things that operators must consider when transferring their networks while continuing to deliver high quality connectivity. It is imperative the switch is seamless with no downtime, and that the new platform and network can sustain itself for a long period of time; able to meet the increasing customer demand with minimal maintenance and upgrades. The main factors for service providers to consider is how they deploy their network and how many sites they need. This will ultimately determine the kind of technology they need to invest in, the frequency they end up using, and the amount of money they need to spend.
With shorter range technology, an operator will need a lot of sites in order to achieve the desired amount of coverage. Often, many in the industry get excited about the deployment of high-capacity radio networks to deliver short range, high-capacity services. However, those networks require a significant amount of infrastructure, which is where it can get costly with regards to time and resources for installation and ongoing maintenance.
Not only does a business need to consider the time and financial investment, but there is also the added complexity of having to roll out a network with a large number of hub sites and other equipment. This kind of deployment needs a large amount of power and planning, especially when there are regulatory issues involved with locating sites for infrastructure. This is a particular challenge with mesh networks where platforms often need to be installed on streetlights, overhead gantries, and other street furniture. The capacity can be achieved this way, but it is complex to roll out these networks physically on the ground.
The other downside when it comes to mesh networks is the redundancy and resiliency that needs to be built in for the effective management of the network. With a mesh network, this is only achieved when hundreds of sites communicate together, but to reach that point operators need to deploy equipment on a mass scale, which can be prohibitive. There is also the issue that much of the technologies needed for this kind of deployment are not affordable enough to install and maintain on a vast scale.
The best solution here would a set-up where an entire city can be covered with just five or six hub sites that provide good capacity coverage, rather than covering the area with thousands of access nodes. It is also likely this sort of network will be more resilient and more optimised as redundancy can be built in and planned right from the start.
Network planning is essential
It is vital that operators plan their network deployments in detail, allowing them to save resource, time, and money later down the line, and ensuring that the end result will meet the business requirements. With a high-quality network planning tool, it is possible to determine how many sites will be needed, where any deficit or network congestion may occur and the coverage that can be achieved.
For the most successful networks, planning will prove key. Not only will this save the service provider wasting any money or time on installing unnecessary equipment, but once up and running it will be possible to optimise and monitor the network. The right tools will be able to foresee any expansions or maintenance that may be needed at any point, as well as enable the effective transition or rollout of a new network.
The 10.5GHz band has proven itself as a great alternative for those service providers that have no choice other than to make the jump from 3.5GHz. 10.5GHz achieves a relatively good range of up to approximately 15 miles at an availability of 99.99 percent. This combination of long range with the economic benefits of a point to multipoint (P2MP) system results in an extremely attractive proposition. The capital and operating cost of the network is amortized across all links operated by the equipment, and because the coverage area is large, a single inexpensive hub can provide potential coverage to thousands of possible fixed end user locations.
Additionally, for those service providers that choose to move to 10.5GHz, it is likely they will not need to move frequencies again for some time, allowing plenty of time to maximise the return on the investment. 10.5GHz enjoys little to no saturation, particularly in Asia and Africa.
Taking the next step
As the rollout of 5G ramps up, it is imperative that operators faced with the difficult situation of having to switch frequencies or losing their services entirely, plan ahead now, rather than later. For the best results, it is essential for them to utilise high quality FWA solutions and invest in the solutions that will best serve them long-term.
For the most successful transition, operations should look to harness the expertise and pedigree of a leading FWA provider, such as Cambridge Broadband Networks Group. With specialist support, the planning, implementation, maintenance, and optimisation stages will ensure that the infrastructure used will meet the service providers’ specific business requirements. As the network transitions and grows in size due to demand from customers, it is important for the technology used to be as future proofed as possible, ready to meet the demand of not just today, but also tomorrow.