Rural broadband: Is WiMax the answer?

Rural broadband: Is WiMax the answer?

Vij Aricent

Vij Aricent

Rakesh Vij, assistant vice president at Aricent, a global innovation, technology and services company focused exclusively on communications, talks about WiMax.

Recent developments have significantly changed the position of WiMAX, with the Digital Britain report playing a pivotal role in defining the strategy for how ‘Britain can sustain its position as a leading digital economy and society’. The report is intended as a strategy to bring Britain successfully out of the global downturn by making it more competitive through the development of its communications infrastructure.

One of the headline grabbing recommendations of the Report was a 50p per month levy on every landline in order to raise revenue for the Next Generation Fund to expand high speed broadband to rural areas. However, opinion is divided as to whether the proposed ‘tax’ will help or hinder progress.

High pressure

With pressure coming to bear on service providers to connect these disconnected communities, the economics of rural broadband are coming into an ever sharper focus. Operators are looking at fixed and wireless alternatives, with WiMAX increasingly appearing as a potential solution.

 

However, with operators focusing their attention on 3.5G and pre 4G roll outs and with the financial hangover of 3G deployments still fresh in the memory, most have thus far been reluctant to consider complementary mobile broadband alternatives for rural areas.

While rural broadband deployments can use the same technologies which are used in urban areas, they are not particularly well suited given the specific requirements and challenges which include time to market, infrastructure related concerns, data rate requirements, deployment flexibility and delivering mobile value added services.

But now, with the government proposing the Next Generation Fund, operators are able to widen their network horizons and consider other avenues, such as WiMAX.

 

Further developments

In other developments that potentially free up the market for WiMAX, the UK government’s Department for Business, Innovation and Skills has launched a consultation to free up current radio spectrum being used for 2G to make way for 3.9G spectrum. Entitled ‘A direction to Ofcom to implement the wireless radio spectrum modernisation programme’, the consultation has called for the regulator to ‘proceed as soon as possible’ with the auction for newly available frequencies in the 800MHz and 2.6GHz bands, in order to lead ‘to new next generation mobile broadband and boosting the potential for new services such as WiMAX’.

Meanwhile the European Union has declared that it has ratified rules for opening up GSM spectrum for high-speed mobile services. This announcement from the EU has amended a 22 year old rule protecting certain frequencies in the 900Mhz band for GSM use only. This recognition that the demand for spectrum in the run up to 3.9G will necessitate spectrum liberalisation is giving operators more flexibility to adopt the strategies that are best for their business and market.

The Next Generation Fund together with re-farmed spectrum creates a perfect breeding ground for new networks and improved prospects for WiMAX. As a single WiMAX radio site is capable of reaching distances of up to 30 miles for fixed services and 3-10 miles for mobile coverage, this technology is particularly useful for widespread rural areas difficult to connect in a cost effective way via wired alternatives such as copper of fibre. Physical infrastructure doesn’t need to be rolled-out to individual customer premises on the last mile and this significantly reduces the overall cost and time-to-market in deploying the network.

 

Princely concern

The question of rural connectivity has generated more interest recently with the entrance of HRH Prince Charles into the debate with an article outlining his worries for rural Britain generally with its poor connectivity being one of his main concerns. The Prince highlighted the plight of British farmers and how the farming industry has declined by over 50% in the past decade. As a resolution, he suggested that farmers would be able to work more efficiently if there was connection available all over.

As a mature 3.9G technology, WiMAX supports high speed data rates superior to the requirements outlined in Digital Britain. The economics of WiMAX are also being better understood with recent moves by Ofcom to enable UK service provider Freedom4 to deploy in a higher bandwidth capable of supporting WiMAX services.

Moreover, WiMAX allows operators to surgically choose deployment options and focus on specific areas where there is strong demand. Capacity expansions can be addressed easily by upgrades in the datacenter and do not require any physical infrastructure onsite. WiMAX also allows operators to offer value-added services such as location-based services which are typically not available with fixed technologies, and can help improve the ARPU from rural areas.

So, although still at its very early stages in the UK, it looks set that WiMAX, with its technology superiority and deployment friendliness, is the ideal technology to serve the needs of rural broadband markets, and provide economically viable solutions. Aricent is a global innovation, technology and services company focused exclusively on communications. Aricent is a strategic supplier to the world’s leading application, infrastructure and service providers, with operations in 19 countries worldwide. www.aricent.com