By Andrey Koynov, Chief Technology Officer, InfiNet Wireless
Fixed wireless broadband has for years been chosen for being the most cost-effective alternative network access technology, especially in the days when there was plenty of spectrum available. Companies started to emerge offering their customers a solution that would easily be slotted into an existing network, and would provide adequate coverage.
However, there has been a major shift in radio spectrum occupancy, especially in terms of the unlicensed spectrum which was dominantly being used for small and medium wireless internet service providers (WISP). Customer expectations too have changed dramatically. Five to ten years ago, customers were happy with Internet speeds of between 2Mb and 5Mb.
However, fixed wireless broadband customers today expect speeds that at the very least are comparable with the speeds when fibre is used as an access technology. In essence, it’s about providing a service that can clearly surpass the connectivity that smartphone users enjoy.
Fixed wireless broadband vendors have to be a lot smarter, especially considering the constraints now placed on the industry in terms of the availability of spectrum. Gone are the days when they could simply use high-powered radios to overcome capacity and frequency shortcomings - it no longer works.
Nowadays, vendors need to include a lot more added value to their solutions in order to stay efficient enough to meet customer expectations. The solutions need to become smarter in terms of real-world efficiencies: this also applies to interference mitigation and avoidance technologies, and spectrum efficiency, which impacts the products being developed.
A multi-faceted approach works best in order to optimise solutions from the bottom up. By introducing greater efficiency, you are able to make use of technologies which are designed specifically for mitigating interference in a smarter way, such as Instant DFS*.
One of the newest editions to our product range is the R5000-Qmxb beamforming antenna base station sector. With an integrated beamforming antenna the R5000-Qmxb allows for superior interference immunity thanks to its additional gain and the dynamically steerable directional antenna radiation pattern both in downlink and uplink.
Recent product developments offer new solutions to address the latest trends and are designed to achieve both interference mitigation and better spectrum efficiency.
Seeing is believing and product demonstrations to existing and potential customers to show the capabilities of the range of products remain the most convincing way to demonstrate the effectiveness of a product to a customer.
For some, the new developments and associated products are a huge shift. For many well-established customers, we produce not only wireless pieces of equipment, but also systems that provide additional networking services, such as routing and advanced switching capabilities.
However, for some of our newer customers there is a learning curve, mainly because they are now able to do a lot more than they previously could.
Small and medium-size wireless ISPs are normally fast adopters of new wireless technologies. This is usually due to that fact that it is a highly-competitive market so they are keen to offer a superior service in order to capture their customer base.
Conversely, the enterprise-type customer - for example in the oil and gas market - is more conservative in their approach to change. They need to service their own network with zero outage, which is why they can be resistant to adopting new technologies. However, having said that, once they experience the benefits of partnering with an enterprise-grade fixed wireless system, there’s no turning back.
It is predicted that in three to five years the market will become more diversified. There are already a number of alternative technologies available that are conducive for fixed wireless broadband, such as LTE. 5G will definitely be competition in the future, but there are currently no products that support 5G. This is mainly due to the fact that there is no approved standard to define the fifth generation of mobile wireless systems. The actual deployment of 5G, together with the associated products and services, are a few years down the road.
There are other alternatives too - the MulteFire that is 100 per cent unlicensed LTE - and some new frequency bands are opening up: there are some new solutions being introduced for frequency bands such as 17, 24, 60, 70 GHz, etc. We still believe that 5 GHz will remain the biggest market in terms of the unlicensed fixed wireless technologies. What is advantageous for the customer, is that the new technologies will present more diversity for the end user.
Africa is a more challenging continent in terms of spectrum regulation, interference and operating conditions. For example, South Africa, in particular, often presents a real challenge to technologies readily used in Europe or the Middle East due to its heavy thunderstorms and extreme heat.
However, we have learnt a lot and are now able to adapt accordingly.
*Instant DFS is a technology which allows a system to automatically monitor the whole spectrum available for a particular operation, and identify specific parts of it to ascertain if they are better suited than the current channel being used by the unit.