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Fixed LTE: The Most Advanced Tool for Delivering Broadband Services

By Roderick Kelly

Making maximum use of coverage from towers with non-line-of-sight radio wave propagation improves the return on investment for fixed wireless access network operators.

Because of dense terrain throughout Maine, Redzone Wireless has deployed Telrad non-line-of-sight LTE radios. Two LTE radios are shown in this photo of a tower near Sanford, Maine. Photo courtesy of Redzone Wireless

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.

Market Trends

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.

iGR Estimates Costs for Fixed Wireless Deployments

iGR’s market study, “U.S. Fixed Wireless Deployment Cost Estimate: Finding the Niches,” provides a cost model that builds on several assumptions regarding feasibility and costs to estimate how much it might cost to deploy mid-band-based and mmWave-based services, using a Massive MIMO antenna system.  The market study also provides a detailed discussion on fixed wireless, the mid-band and mmWave spectrum being used in the U.S., FWA deployment options, MIMO, as well as the significance of 3GPP-compliant versus non-3GPP-compliant FWA systems.

“Both mid-band spectrum and mmWave spectrum will likely be used for the first 5G fixed wireless broadband implementations,” said Iain Gillott, president and founder of iGR. “Therefore, our cost model estimates how much it might cost to deploy FWA services to U.S. households and businesses in both of these spectrums.  Our model also looks at the deployment cost for different population densities and distances from downtown.”

Fixed wireless is one of several options for providing broadband internet access to the home and small business. The fixed wireless access market has heated up over the last 18 months. According to iGR, there are two reasons for this:

  • Rapid progress on 5G standards defined as 3GPP Release 15 (Rel-15) and the subsequent releases which will deliver additional 5G features and functions.
  • Need for spectrum which is driven both by ever-increasing mobile data demand but also the capabilities of 5G which will eventually deliver mobile networks capable of 1 Gbps throughput and millisecond latencies.

According to the market study, two broad spectrum categories will likely see the first “5G” fixed wireless broadband implementations:

  • Mid-band: the spectrum bands between 2.3 GHz and approximately 6 GHz
  • mmWave: examples of the millimeter wave bands include: 24 GHz, 28 GHz, 29 GHz, 31 GHz, 39 GHz, 60 GHz and 70 GHz.

The report can be purchased and downloaded directly from iGR’s website at www.iGR-inc.com.


Use Case Demonstrates Fixed Wireless Can Compete Against Fiber

There is growing appeal of fixed wireless access (FWA) as an alternative to fiber-class access methods, according to a white paper released by OVUM, a market-leading research and consulting business. Skywire Networks, one of the most active and fastest growing Ethernet providers in New York City, supported the white paper initiative.

Commenting on the findings, Daryl Schoolar, Practice Leader at Ovum stated, “For more than a decade, there has been great interest in operators using fixed wireless access, or microwave, as a viable “last-mile” technology, however, the technology was potentially unstable under certain environmental conditions and could not accommodate high capacity transport.”

Schoolar continued, “Our research clearly shows that operators today using point to point fixed wireless to connect their customers to the internet can offer speeds and performance guarantees on par with those operators that are using end-to-end fiber alone for network access.”

The following are some of the reasons the market for fixed wireless access remains an attractive option.

Access. In the U.S. today, there remain both highly populated and thinly populated areas without access to high-speed Internet. This includes major metro areas like New York City, not just rural America.

Speed. Fixed wireless access has a significantly faster install time than other fixed broadband networks, especially if an operator must trench fiber to reach the customer.

Cost. Fixed wireless has a much lower upfront cost to build than fiber. This lower cost makes reaching certain locations more economically feasible. For carriers, fixed wireless provides a reliable and economic way to extend their network reach.

“Interest and adoption of FWA as an access path for enterprise-class, full SLA Ethernet continues to rapidly grow,” said Alan Levy, co-founder and CEO of Skywire Networks. “The white paper findings, further validate our business thesis that fixed wireless access technology can compete directly against other technologies, including fiber, in their ability to transport Ethernet. Consumers, enterprises, and carriers use the Ethernet and internet layers, not the layers they’re transported on, to enable their networks.”

The white paper provides a summary of the topic as well as an overview of the FWA market and examines the drivers for FWA adoption and features an interview with Emeka Ibekweh, managing director of technology at Ascend Learning, a public charter school with ten sites, all in Brooklyn. In the white paper, Ibekweh states that, “Ascend Learning encountered speed and connectivity issues due to its dependency on slower speed T-1 connections prior to contracting with Skywire Networks back in 2013.”

“Ascend Learning’s school district currently has over 4,000 students in grades kindergarten through high school. Given that technology is built into the way students as young as kindergarten learn, we couldn’t fulfill our primary educational objectives without high-speed broadband Internet access,” said Emeka Ibekweh, managing director of technology at Ascend Learning. “Skywire Networks has been a true partner to us by providing stable and reliable service where we can run all our applications with ease.”

The OVUM White Paper can be found Here.


ExteNet Systems Partners with Peak Internet on CBRS LTE Fixed Wireless Network

ExteNet Systems  has deployed a CBRS Part 96 ready fixed wireless LTE-based network with Peak Internet, which provides high-speed broadband internet access services to residential, small business, enterprise and government customers in Colorado Springs and Pike’s Peak.

ExteNet is using its distributed Evolved Packet Core (EPC) solution with Nokia’s CBRS-ready LTE radios to enable fixed wireless broadband service for Peak Internet over the licensed 3.65 GHz band with a future, software only upgrade path to the 3.5 GHz Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) band, which broadband LTE connectivity while complying with pending FCC mandates. ExteNet’s deployment will include a built-in capability to support future mobile roaming services for Tier 1 providers.


CommScope Enters Fixed Wireless Market

CommScope is entering the fixed wireless access market with the introduction of an integrated antenna solution based on xRAN open interface specifications. The open interface allows wireless operators to mix and match radio access network (RAN) hardware from multiple vendors to varying requirements.

The company will highlight the technologies at Mobile World Congress 2018, February 26-March 1, in Barcelona, Spain. The integrated 5G radio/antenna solution will be available for trials in mid-2018.

“Our integrated antenna will enable the full capabilities of 5G millimeter-wave spectrum bands while offering maximum flexibility in an evolving air-interface environment,” said Farid Firouzbakht, senior vice president, RF Products, CommScope. “As a contributing member to the xRAN organization, we endorse the benefits of an open baseband interface for enabling more innovation in the wireless marketplace.”

CommScope’s 5G radio/antenna solution supports millimeter-wave spectrum and works on a completely virtualized baseband with an open interface. This solution integrates a beamforming active antenna array operating at 28 GHz and will be available for trial with a third-party baseband platform to create a 5G access network.

With CommScope’s solution, wireless operators can use commercial off-the-shelf servers to trial virtualized network functions for fixed wireless access applications.

The CommScope solution includes:

A base station antenna with full 120-degree beam-steering of four independent MIMO (multiple input/multiple output) ports, using a 256-element antenna array. The integrated remote radio unit requires a compact enclosure of less than 10 liters volume, passively cooled and optimized to fit within concealment solutions.