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Broadband data service in Metropolitan Areas

Broadband wireless technologies evolved during the last decades to a point where mature solutions exist for many different network configurations – fixed point to point, fixed point to multipoint, mobile. These solutions are used today for practically all types of broadband applications – cellular networks for mobile broadband; WiMAX for fixed, and lately also mobile, broadband access; point-to-point microwave links for backhaul; WiFi and femtocells for short range broadband access; WiFi for metro broadband networks. In parallel, wireline broadband technologies have also developed, and there is now a variety of such solutions – cable modem over CATV networks, xDSL, Ethernet over copper, fiber-optics FTTx solutions.

In some situations the wireless solutions are the only ones that make sense – for example for outdoor mobile broadband access, or for bringing broadband access to remote or hard to reach locations. There are a few applications, however, in which the high power wireless solutions are in clear disadvantage relative to competing wireline solutions, potentially in conjunction with low power wireless for short range untethered access.

One important and extremely lucrative market for communications services is broadband access for homes and offices in metropolitan areas. Many different solutions compete in this market, employing both wireline and wireless technologies – CATV, xDSL, FTTx; cellular 3G, HSPA, LTE; WiMAX. This application is a high profile example in which the wireless solutions are of substantial disadvantage.

  • RF spectrum is a scarce resource, and as the traffic volume of broadband data grows it reaches saturation. Allocation of additional spectrum is in many cases not possible, and even if possible it requires lengthy regulatory proceedings. The same spectrum is used for mobile services, where it has no alternative. Consuming this resource for indoor services, where there are alternatives, is a waste of deficient resource.
  • Most, if not all buildings in metropolitan areas are already connected to some wireline networks. Providing broadband access over this existing infrastructure is relatively easy and low cost.
  • Indoor coverage by macrocell wireless networks is difficult, and this is where most of the traffic is generated. Moreover, indoor users have disproportionate effect on the macrocell network, so that just a few such users cause service degradation to all other users in the cell.
  • Wireline data rates are typically higher than wireless.
  • If untethered access is desired indoors, WiFi and femtocells represent an optimal solution – they allow very dense reuse of spectrum, they support very high data rates, and their cost is low.

As the consumption of broadband data, and particularly mobile broadband data, surges, it becomes inevitable to convert more and more of the indoor traffic to wireline access, freeing the wireless spectrum for applications that have no alternative – especially outdoors.

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