I’m seeing a lot of articles pitting wireless against Fiber to the Home, some good and some bad. The good ones highlight the fact that carriers are testing new service offerings in urban markets that provide gigabit speeds over wireless; this is real. The not-so-good ones are strawman reasoning that argue against the proposition that wireless will replace DSL and cable for rural broadband services. This is not so good. This piece explains when wireless is a real substitute for wired broadband and when we shouldn’t even be considering it.
The limitation that both wireless and wired have in rural settings is backhaul cost. It’s expensive to run long strands of fiber along the right of way, even though farmers are pretty good at digging trenches. The reason is that installation is just the beginning of the battle: it’s not enough to install a network, you also have to keep it operating in all kinds of weather. So wireless backhaul will be used in many places for a long time in rural areas.
And if you’re going to rely on wireless backhaul, there’s not much reason not to use wireless for the last three to five miles as well. And face it, wires break but radio waves constantly renew themselves like self-healing robots.
So you can count on rural networks being built out of a variety of wireless technologies in the present and in the near future. As needs for capacity increase, signal processing systems that enable more efficient sharing will keep rural folks ahead of the tsunami.
These days, it’s hard to think of any major consumer product that doesn’t offer wireless Internet connectivity. Thermostats, appliances, cars, baby monitors – all of these and more depend on web access.The wireless revolution is driven by advances in radio spectrum engineering and Internet connectivity.In this column, we discuss how these remarkable developments are revolutionizing everyday products integral to our lives, including Wi-Fi and connectivity for the Internet of Things.
Wi-Fi uses unlicensed spectrum, open to use by any device that has been certified by the FCC as conforming to its Part 15 rules on transmitted electromagnetic energy. The certification process is easy and cheap compared to licensing, but it’s not a complete free-for-all. Device manufacturers obtain the certifications, so we consumers are free to use their products without much hassle.
The design work on 802.11 started in 1990, when high-speed wireless networking was 1 – 2 Mbps; today’s Wi-Fi networks can run at speeds in excess of 1000 Mbps. The basic method of operation for Wi-Fi is for devices to listen before they talk, and only to talk when other devices are silent. The period of silence that has to be observed is a function of how far the most distant signal has to travel before it can be detected, which isn’t sensitive to data rate.
Wi-Fi devices aren’t going to disappear any time soon, but the future of unlicensed spectrum for wireless broadband will probably belong to LTE-U. It’s just better all around.