Redzone Wireless in Rockland, Maine, began deploying a fixed LTE high-speed wireless broadband data network in 2014 to replace a network that was made for a mobile environment. With its undulating hills and heavily treed terrain, Maine is not the easiest state in which to deploy a wireless network. Obstacles between base station antenna sites and user devices that blocked line-of-sight radio wave propagation inhibited each site’s market potential.
In three years, Redzone has expanded its coverage to more than 100 communities, 40,000 businesses and 240,000 households throughout Maine through the use of fixed LTE.
“We ended up replacing our former network equipment with Telrad’s fixed LTE radio access network, evolved packet core and customer premises equipment,” Jim McKenna, the president of Redzone, said. “As a result, we realized 25 percent greater coverage and increased speeds by 5 Mbps in a 20-megahertz-wide channel. The end-to-end solution also provided us with improved stability across the network. Fixed LTE also provided critical non-line-of-sight penetration to capture more market share per tower.”
Wireless Revolution, Evolution
In the early part of this century, small wireless internet service providers were eager to join the market, as unlicensed 2.4-GHz and 5-GHz bands provided an attractive business case. Telecom operators, on the other hand, were skeptical of anything in unlicensed bands because their business model was not set up to take on the risk of losing capacity caused by interference.
Since that time, some operators have fallen by the wayside or changed names, but many of the early adopters are still playing major roles in the evolution of wireless broadband. Various access technologies have been used: Wi-Fi, mesh, WiMAX, proprietary point-to-multipoint and now standards-based LTE. That’s the evolution.
For example, Wharton County Electric Cooperative (WCEC) in southeast Texas used WiMAX 802.16 wireless broadband technology for four years until a competitor began crowding the spectrum, making it a challenge to offer a high-quality service and higher throughputs to their customers.
As a result, WCEClooked for a better solution for its subscribers. The co-op settled on Telrad 4G/LTE dual-mode radios. “We understood that the upfront investment was slightly higher, but the quality of the equipment and therefore our service was much improved,” said Keith Beal, manager of information technology and metering for WCEC. “The range and capacity are outstanding. These are critical as we upgrade and grow our network.”
The challenge with Wi-Fi-based networks is that additional equipment is needed to meet increased capacity demand; increased interference between towers reduces capacity because of the unlicensed spectrum. LTE uses licensed or managed spectrum and avoids the problem. Operators find that the cost savings realized by using unlicensed radios is mitigated by losing capacity because of interference. The message? Base the purchase decision on network return on investment, not the cost of a radio. LTE is also the first non-line-of-sight technology that increases the market potential for each tower, something not often factored into the business plan when purchasing equipment.
Migrating to LTE resolves the interference issue because the 3.65-GHz spectrum is standardized. Having high confidence that the network is reliable and having downtime minimal provide an excellent blueprint for seamlessly working with, and not against, nature’s abundant beauty that often plagues operators, said Redzone’s McKenna.
So where is it all headed, and who will be the visionaries?
They will be the companies that build upon the engineering successes of their predecessors and that expand their networks to meet the growing demands of video streaming. That’s the revolution.
Fixed LTE can tackle six fixed wireless access market challenges:
Streaming video. Gone are the days of simply being connected, viewing web pages and shopping. Why? Because households and offices are streaming video to multiple devices simultaneously, which chews through operator capacity. The video evolution from standard definition to high definition to 4K will keep the pressure on capacity.
Software-defined radios.Service providers want to add capacity to their networks without a tower climb to upgrade equipment. One solution is to deploy software-defined radios, which allow for remote capacity upgrades without a truck roll.
Standards-based.Service providers of all sizes want to deploy quality, standards-based fixed broadband wireless access solutions at price points that generate profits, increase their return on investment and give them more vendor options and more exit value.
Changing how consumers buy broadband.Not many end users know the difference or effect of buying a 15-Mbps best-effort service compared with a 25-Mbps best-effort service. With multiple streams per household, operator capacity is being consumed with no increase in revenue. In rural markets, the trend will be for operators to offer packages based on the number of streams the customer wants supported, bringing clarity to the user about what they are actually buying.
Evolution path.Operators know that video is usurping capacity. LTE’s roadmap goes to LTE-Advanced, LTE-Advanced PRO and then 5G. Operators care less about what it’s called and more about how much more capacity can be delivered incrementally. LTE standards are driven by the 3rd Generation Partnership Project (3GPP) via the GSM Association.
Non-line-of-sight.At the end of the day, reaching end-users in any environment increases the market share per tower. LTE is a non-line-of-sight technology, and the standards will continue to advance and enhance this capability. Non-line-of-site also means never having to say “I can’t serve you,” which occurs afterspending operator time and energy to determine that the customer can’t be served. That represents a loss for both parties.
Fixed LTE is a Game-changer
Fixed LTE is not a technology that uses the same assumptions as other wireless technologies. In fact, it would be a disaster if this operator deployed a fixed LTE network using the same methodology and ideas as Wi-Fi or other proprietary technologies.
Here are some differences:
LTE makes use of hybrid automatic repeat request (HARQ), along with dynamic rate adaptation as part of a media access control (MAC) scheduler, to ensure consistent, reliable performance in a multipath, non-line-of-sight environment. Other wireless technologies lack this scheduling capability and try to avoid multipath propagation, which ultimately limits deployments to line-of-sight paths.
LTE isnon-line-of-sight technology. As Redzone experienced, a dense fixed wireless access deployment can result in unwanted self-interference. This is because professionally installed directional customer premises equipment is preferred, because of the link budget benefits. These higher-gain directional antennas translate to increased reliability along with higher modulation and coding, which ultimately improves the overall capacity of the sector. This can create challenges in a handover-enabled network, because directional subscribers can easily wind up interweaving in terms of sector associations, resulting in unnecessary inference. This can be managed through careful planning with the use of alignment tools, along with cell-locking.
The success of any deployment directly correlates with the radio network design. When radio planning is executed carefully, an operator can optimize coverage and throughput, which in turn provides a greater return on investment. For example, the antenna in a 3-GHz non-line-of-sight deployment needs to be two to three times higher than the tree canopy for an optimized sector implementation. This minimizes the attenuation by optimizing the angle of incidence.
Understanding how LTE works, in addition to using the proper network tools at the beginning of a project, provides the best chances for a successful installation, thereby eliminating reactive cleanup at the tower.
Roderick Kelly is cofounder of K+L Storytellers. For information about the fixed LTE wireless access equipment described in the article, visit www.redzonewireless.com.