The future of wireless

A UK consortium has completed a 6-month research study on behalf of Ofcom to investigate the use of wireless technology as an alternative for the provision of last mile communications to the home.

A Plextek-led consortium has completed a 6-month research study on behalf of the communication industries regulator Ofcom to investigate the use of wireless technology as an alternative for the provision of last mile communications to the home, as part of Ofcom’s Wireless Last Mile Investigation.

It asked Plextek to consider whether there is a way forward to offering economic, ubiquitous broadband wireless access, given that previous solutions have had marginal business cases. The study found that wireless cannot realistically compete with fibre for the provision of future broadband requirements over the whole of the last mile.

Steve Methley, Senior Consultant, Plextek comments: “This study is one of a number that Plextek has carried out for Ofcom. It considers the transition, over the next 10-20 years, from today’s ADSL broadband to the future requirement which we term ’Broadband 2.0’. The last mile requirement will increasingly be one in which there is convergence of the services and platforms providing communications and entertainment to the home. Future high definition (HD) TV services are likely to demand undiluted access to streaming content at 10-15Mb/s, per channel, which is massively in excess of what today’s ADSL systems can support. Not enough people understand that today’s ADSL is a contended service – delivered rates may fall to only hundreds of kb/s”

Having ruled out ADSL, the study suggests that upcoming wireless standards show a bias towards small screen mobile content delivery and are not attempting to address the challenge of Broadband 2.0 requirements. It investigates three fresh approaches to the physical technology – mesh and multihopping systems, UHF/TV band working and hybrid schemes with fibre or Gb/s ’wireless fibre’. It also considers fresh approaches for licensing including the licence mix, creating a nationally tetherless last mile and ubiquitous access, based on peering approaches.

Plextek concludes that the Broadband 2.0 solution must be based on fibre which must in future reach further into the access network, and potentially all the way to the customer premises. Fibre can solve the contention issues by increasing back haul capacity and can solve the last mile issue by acting as a point to point solution alone, or as a feeder to DSL distribution technologies – thus effectively reducing the length of DSL lines required.

The study further concludes that wireless has application as a last mile feeder element, using Gb/s wireless as a fibre replacement and within the home e.g. 802.11n. As national coverage of fibre may be below 100%, this also leaves some scope for wireless based broadband systems on today’s ADSL specification, most likely in rural areas.

Fixed access, i.e. the local loop was the focus for the report; mobile access was specifically excluded from the scope.