For years, Internet Service Providers (ISPs) have witnessed a battle of technologies: Fixed Wireless versus Fiber. While many favor fiber due to its reliability and multi-gigabit throughput, the rapid evolution of wireless technology makes it a compelling alternative worth discussing. In this article, we will explore the unique advantages and challenges of wireless technology and make a case for its inclusion in the strategic planning of ISP infrastructure.
Fiber Deployment – The High Investment Challenge
Fiber optic infrastructure, although robust and reliable, requires substantial financial investment, labor, and time. The capital expenditure (CAPEX) and return on investment (ROI) periods can be daunting, with fiber deployment costs often soaring.
For example, according to the most recent Fiber Broadband Association study in 2019, the cost of deploying fiber to the premises (FTTP) can range from $1,000 to $1,200 per connection and averages $60,000 to $80,000 per mile. Now add three years of heavy inflation and labor shortage since the study
and the cost of fiber has now become uneconomical for more locations than before. Not to mention, deploying fiber networks can take years from planning to completion, and in some cases can be impeded by right-of-way issues.
Fixed Wireless Deployment
Fixed wireless technology is gaining popularity over fiber optics due to its lower costs. While laying fiber cables requires expensive infrastructure and labor costs, fixed wireless technology utilizes a network of antennas and radio signals to deliver high-speed internet to users at a lower cost.
For example, in rural areas, the cost of laying fiber cables can be too high to justify the investment. In contrast, fixed wireless technology can be deployed faster and with lower costs, making it a more feasible option for delivering high-speed internet to remote communities.
The Time-Saving Appeal of Wireless Deployment
Compared to fiber, fixed wireless technology also offers faster installation times, further reducing costs. Installing fiber requires obtaining permits, trenching, and laying cables, which can take several weeks or months. On the other hand, fixed wireless technology installations can often be completed within days, if there is a clear line of sight between the antenna and the user's location. This means that fixed wireless technology offers a cost-effective solution for both urban and rural areas that require fast and reliable internet access without incurring the excessive costs of fiber installation. Overall, fixed wireless technology offers a practical and economical way to provide high-speed internet access to communities with limited access to fiber infrastructure.
By eliminating the need for physical cabling, wireless deployments save on costs, labor, and time, making ROI achievable within a shorter period. This makes wireless an appealing choice for forward-thinking ISPs.
The Vulnerability of Fiber
While fiber optics are renowned for their reliability, they are not immune to disruptions. Fiber cuts can be caused by various factors, including natural disasters, construction accidents, or even rodents chewing through the cables. These incidents can lead to costly repairs and lengthy service outages.
A recent fiber outage in Durham and Chapel Hill, NC underscores the vulnerability of fiber infrastructure. Despite its reputation for reliability, fiber networks can still suffer from outages, causing significant disruptions to internet services. In this instance, the outage lasted for several days and resulted in a work-from-home resident being unable to work and forced to use vacation days.
This highlights the potential risks associated with relying solely on fiber infrastructure for critical services, such as remote work, education, and healthcare. While fiber is a robust and fast option for internet access, it is not immune to disruptions, and alternative solutions, such as fixed wireless technology, may be needed to ensure reliable internet connectivity.
The Resilience of Wireless
Modern wireless systems have evolved to minimize weather-related disruptions, incorporating advanced technologies to improve performance and reliability. A skillfully engineered fixed wireless network can rival fiber in terms of reliability, offering near-perfect dependability.
Licensed backhauls for point-to-point (PtP) links can offer 99.99% to 99.999% reliability, and point-to-multipoint solutions have incorporated technologies like adaptive modulation, MIMO (Multiple Input, Multiple Output), and beamforming to improve performance and reliability. Unlike fiber, wireless technology is immune to most physical disturbances like fallen trees or construction accidents.
When it comes to establishing reliable network connectivity, ISPs often consider fiber and fixed wireless technologies as two viable options. While fiber connections are known for their high speeds and reliability, fixed wireless solutions offer greater flexibility and affordability, particularly in areas where fiber deployment may not be feasible or cost-effective. However, it is important to note that these two technologies don’t necessarily have to be mutually exclusive.
Fixed wireless can provide a significant advantage to an existing fiber ISP through affordable network redundancy. By incorporating supplementary wireless links, it is possible to create a backup system for the fiber network. In the event of a fiber connection failure, the system can reroute traffic to the wireless network, ensuring continuous service.
On the flip side, the practice of using fiber as a backup for wireless networks is also gaining momentum. ISPs are increasingly choosing this strategy due to the high throughput of microwave links, particularly multiband ones, which can deliver up to 10 Gbps. This is achieved at a much lower cost compared to a similar fiber connection. In such scenarios, a 1 Gbps fiber circuit is often used for redundancy instead of a full 10 Gbps fiber drop, making it a more economically viable option.
Fiber vs Wireless: The Hybrid Approach
There are more advantages to adopting hybrid networks than redundancy. By adopting hybrid networks that blend both fiber and wireless technologies, ISPs can leverage the two technologies to their advantage. This approach allows ISPs to leverage the benefits of both fiber and wireless during infrastructure development, ensuring that customers can enjoy high-speed internet connectivity without the extended wait times that fiber deployment can entail.
Hybrid networks also enable ISPs to extend their service reach into areas where the installation of fiber-optic infrastructure may prove prohibitively expensive due to geographical or demographic factors. By harnessing the power of wireless technology, ISPs can bypass these impediments and offer high-quality connectivity to remote or underserved areas.
For instance, Fixed Wireless Internet Service Providers (WISPs) have been successful in delivering fast and reliable internet services to rural and underserved regions of the United States, where traditional fiber deployment may not be economically viable. The deployment of hybrid networks by ISPs presents a promising strategy to overcome connectivity challenges in remote and underdeveloped regions while delivering cost-effective and high-quality services to customers.
Microwave systems have come a long way from where they were in the early 2000’s. Since then, spectrum efficiency has grown enormously, and the transition to all-IP has enabled numerous new techniques to be deployed, such as Adaptive Modulation (ACM (Adaptive Coding & Modulation)), MIMO, and QoS (QUALITY OF SERVICE) based traffic prioritization. Now we have Band Carrier Aggregation (BCA) or Multi-Band, where multiple channels either in the same or different bands are combined. As a result, multi-Gigabit links even up to 10 or 20 Gbps, are feasible supporting high capacities over distances from a few miles to 20 miles or more, with high availability to support end-user quality of experience (QoE).
Overcoming Technical Challenges of Wireless Deployment with Expert Support
The perceived lack of expertise in engineering wireless networks has been a primary reason some ISPs have been hesitant to adopt wireless technology. Nonetheless, Aviat Networks has found a way to bridge this gap by offering a range of comprehensive services and training. Aviat Networks goes the extra mile by providing solutions that cater to all kinds of customers.
For customers who prefer a self-service approach, Aviat Networks offers Aviat Design for free, which enables users to effortlessly design microwave links. Design is packed full of features including the FCC Layer which allows users to see FCC registered links and the Crown Castle Layer that allows users to quickly locate and incorporate Crown Castle’s assets into a network design.
Additionally, the Aviat Store allows customers to purchase equipment easily, 24/7 with quick delivery.
For those customers who require expert assistance, Aviat Networks can design, deploy, and manage the entire network on the ISP’s behalf, or provide 24/7 training and support for the ISP’s in-house team. With this kind of support, ISPs can confidently transition to wireless or hybrid networks, unlocking the full potential of wireless technology.
As the demand for fast and reliable internet continues to grow, it is crucial for ISPs to consider the benefits and drawbacks of both fiber and wireless technologies. Wireless solutions offer several advantages, including reduced deployment time, increased reliability, and easier network redundancy.
By considering the strengths of wireless technology and strategically deploying it alongside fiber, ISPs can reduce costs, speed up time-to-market, enhance service reliability, and penetrate previously unreachable areas. Embracing a hybrid approach that combines the best of both fiber and wireless technologies can be the key to unlocking the full potential of future ISP infrastructure.
With rising inflation, the debate between fixed wireless and fiber has become more relevant than ever. Wireless technology offers numerous advantages that make it worth considering for the future of ISP infrastructure. By understanding the strengths of wireless and strategically deploying it alongside fiber, ISPs can reduce costs, speed up time-to-market, enhance service reliability, and penetrate previously unreachable areas. As the industry continues to evolve, the strategic incorporation of wireless solutions will become increasingly important for ISPs looking to stay competitive and adapt to changing demands.