Point to Point in the last mile
What's more, everyone is eager to avoid the advent of a digital divide caused by the economic uncertainty behind FTTC or FTTP programmes in rural or less populated areas. But there's no doubt that this will happen unless there are incentives in place to help encourage the spread of appropriate network technologies. We think that any enterprise in an urban area should be able to access the fastest broadband, and there's no reason why someone in a more remote location shouldn't have similar expectations. Equally, those cities and towns seeking to attract inward investment need to be able to highlight high-speed broadband, not as a differentiator but as a basic service.
In the UK, it's been widely reported that 4G trials could help provide that reach into the last mile to ensure that coverage is provided, but that may not be enough. While taking briefings at MWC, we looked at several backhaul solutions and it was clear that there is potential in using technology developed for backhauling mobile data and traffic to extend the reach of fibre networks directly to hard-to-reach premises.
This may not be news, but what was striking is that the economics of such deployments may be undergoing favourable changes. For example, Siklu has a solution that uses Band-E spectrum for high-capacity backhaul at multi Gb/s rates.
While originally conceived for backhaul in a mobile context, the Band-E spectrum can equally be applied for extending fibre networks into new locations or remote areas, without the headache of digging up the streets.
E-Band lies in the extremely high frequency bands from 71 to 76 gigahertz (GHz), 81 to 86 GHz and 92 to 95 GHz. These three allocations are the highest ever licensed by the FCC, for example. With 5 GHz of bandwidth available at 70 GHz and 80 GHz, and 3 GHz at 90 GHz, gigabit and greater data rates can easily be accommodated with reasonably simple radio architectures. Propagation characteristics are well understood and, although slightly worse than those of commonly used microwave bands, it's possible to achieve point-to-point link distances of several miles.
What's more, it's claimed that the cost of such spectrum is sufficiently low as to provide a compelling economic case. Siklu also highlighted how the cost of their solution provided lower TCO, potentially easing adoption.
We shall see. If correct – and early customers have been cited – then this is potentially extremely exciting for accelerating the penetration of true high-speed broadband. Although fibre deployments are progressing, it's still disruptive to dig up a road. If solutions are available to add another option to network delivery, in both urban and rural areas, then it will help not only those enterprises that need such services today, but also help ensure that there can be a closure – or at least narrowing – of the digital divide.