Fixed Wireless Access Delivering Gigabit Speeds to the Premises
June 2022 Pantelis Trakas,
Senior Product Manager, Wireless Network Systems

Sunset in a rural area

Spending more than two years into the COVID-19 pandemic, we can clearly see now the aftermath & impact on the var- ious sectors of the society. One of the evident consequences of COVID-19 is the increased demand for telecommuni- cation services. Our behavior in internet bandwidth consumption have changed dramatically fueling the enormous demand for reliable ultra-fast broadband connectivity. Millions of employees are seeking to sustain and increase their productivity while working from home, boosting their needs for home broadband services even further. The exponential increase in data consumption was present even before the pandemic spiked urging countries to issue government funded initiatives for reaching Gigabit speeds to the end customers. Today this goal is not only feasible with fiber optic solutions. There are also purpose-built Fixed Wireless Access technologies using licensed mmW spectrum than can achieve Gigabit connectivity without the laborious and expensive process of digging and inserting cables into the ground.

Gigabit Society Targets & Challenges

In order to address the constant increase in broadband needs the European Commission proposed that by 2025 all schools, transport hubs and main providers of public services as well as digitally intensive enterprises should have access to internet connections with download/upload speeds of 1 Gigabit of data per second. In addition, all European households, rural or urban, should have access to networks offering a download speed of at least 100 Mbps, which can be upgraded to 1 Gigabit. The upgradability is the critical factor that should be met by telco operators. The questions that all operators will face is which technology and at what cost.

It is evident that most of the Gigabit Society targets will be met by using fiber to the home technology mainly in the urban environment. Despite the fact that there is a huge push across the world to bridge the digital divide between urban and rural areas and increase the full fiber coverage percentages, there is still a large portion of users that are not addressed by fiber-like speeds. There is a high number of barriers that contribute to why fiber deployments struggle to deliver for everyone especially in areas with low population density. The most significant barrier is the demanding and expensive process of digging and inserting cables into the ground where they are not already present. Operators cannot guarantee return on investment in rural terrains with fewer subscribers.

One could argue that 3GPP based solutions can overcome the above challenges and deliver Gigabit speeds at high distances with external CPEs that have Line Of Sight with the base station. This could be true but it is still in experimental phase and the CPE ecosystem has not matured when compared with the mobile handsets or indoor solutions. The reason is simple. The business model followed by 5G operators rely on mass market penetration with self-installable indoor CPEs or mobile handsets. This approach has the advantage of zero engagement with the end customer for installation works hence lower CAPEX costs. The downside is the reduced range of connectivity &am; speed especially in the mmW bands where LOS is required between the BS and CPE. 5G biased operators will not opt for this approach. They will not enter this arena of providing FWA to areas with low population density. It is just not cost efficient and will not have a good impact on their balance sheet. This glitch in the 5G FWA deployment model creates an opportunity for purpose built solutions that can offer ultra-broadband connectivity in rural and semi-rural areas following a simple end-to-end network topology thus keeping the CAPEX and OPEX costs low.

Using MMW Solutions for Gigabit Per Subscriber

Backed up by a multi-decade experience in the design and manufacturing of leading edge telecommunications products, Intracom Telecom can offer Point-to-MultiPoint (PtMP) solutions operating in the 26/28 GHz “block-licensed spectrum” that are capable to address the Gigabit Society objectives. WiBAS™ G5 dual-BS is a MIMO 2x2 radio that can deliver fiber-like services to the end-users with aggregate capacity of 3.2 Gbps per base station sector and 1.75 Gbps downlink speed per end-user terminal station. Operators can efficiently “blanket” wide areas and serve multiple end customers using a broad range of available wireless service terminals – up to 240 per sector – without worrying about scalability concerns. WiBAS™ G5 Connect+ which is the terminal station of this solution is a purpose built radio for residential areas with slim design and compact antenna. The zero-touch provisioning features make this product a perfect fit for operators that need to deploy their FWA networks fast and cost effectively without the need of specialized engineering teams.

Coverage Study: Cremona Province, Italy
  • Frequency:28Ghz
  • Channel Bandwidth: 2 x 112 MHz
  • 4 Base Stations (16 x 90o sectors)
  • Coverage Maps satisfy Link Availability better than 99.95%
  • Line of Sight have been justified only based on terrain data
  • Cell Edge is considered at 6 km

This section presents a RF-planning study in the Cremona region (North Italy, Lombardy). This area was selected due to the relatively low population density (1,000/km2). The following figure shows the assumptions that were used for this study.

It is the perfect example of an area that on operator could target with Intracom Telecom’s WiBAS™ G5 mmW PtMP FWA product line and deliver gigabit speeds to customers that are located even at 6 km from the base station site. The result of the coverage analysis using 16 x WiBAS™ G5 dual-BS sectors are presented in the next figures. The first one is the downlink coverage map.

screenshot of the application displaying a heatmap

The different colors refer to the different modulations that the respective terminal stations are operating. It is important to note that most of the target areas can be serviced with links of at least 64-QAM. This can be interpreted in connection speed.

The terminal stations in this study can achieve even at the 6km cell edge 1 Gbps peak downlink speeds. The table that presents the terminal capacities per modulation is also color coded and each color matches the ones that are used in the downlink coverage map.

Justifying the costs - Is it worth it?

Cost is one of the significant factors that can define the success or failure of a telecommunication project. Telecom providers are fully aware that there is still a large proportion of users that are unlikely to ever get access to fiber. Purpose built FWA offers an attractive alternative because the costs related are a fraction of the ones needed for fiber to the home or 3GPP network infrastructures.

Using the coverage study from the previous section we will prove that an operator can break-even in less than 18 months when deploying a PtMP WiBAS™ G5 network. The term “Average throughput per subscriber during busy hour” is going to be introduced at this point. It is a metric that operators are using when performing capacity dimensioning for their networks. This is the throughput that a connected and active user is consuming in a network during busy hour. A common figure that is acceptable by the telecom operators that are deploying ultra-broadband access networks is 15 Mbps with a peak of 1 Gbps in the downlink direction per customer. This throughput value is more than enough for delivering ultra-broadband services including OTT streaming applications. Using this value and taking into account the coverage study results we can assume that based on the downlink WiBAS™ G5 dual-BS 2 Gbps sector capacity, 134 subscribers can be registered in each base station sector. This gives us a total of 2,144 total users for the network that is presented in the previous section. Assuming an ARPU (Average Revenue Per User) of 25-35 Euro per month we can conclude that the operator will break-even the CAPEX of the FWA network infrastructure in just below 6 quarters.

image of a finance analysis chart

Access to future-proof, ultra-fast broadband has proven to be a very critical factor that influences the economic growth and prosperity for all nations. In order to address future broadband needs, the European Commission proposed that by 2025 all citizens and all socio-economic drivers should have access to Gigabit internet connectivity. The big challenge of this initiative is how the underserved rural areas are going to be efficiently addressed and by which wireless technology. 5G will bring ultra-broadband speeds but cannot achieve Gigabit connections in rural areas that require long range links. Intracom Telecom’s WiBAS™ G5 ultra-broadband FWA solution operating in the mmW bands bridges perfectly the broadband gap between urban and rural areas and becomes an enabler for the Gigabit Society. WiBAS™ G5 PtMP solution can deliver 1Gbps speed per end user even at distances of 6km from the base station. It should be noted though, that the range of the system can extend to more than 11km addressing reliably both rural and semi-rural ultra-broadband access applications. With the most compact and lightweight radio in the market, the WiBAS™ G5 Connect+ terminal station offers the flexibility the operators need to provide a “fixed” style of ultra-fast broadband experience without the costs of building an expensive 5G or fixed fiber network.