|Topic:||Fixed wireless broadband – Internet access for emerging markets|
|Author:||Rene dos Remedios|
|Organisation:||Latitude Broadband Inc|
Rene dos Remedios is the CEO of Latitude Broadband Inc, a manufacturer of carrier-grade access and bandwidth management equipment for fixed broadband wireless next-generation networks. Mr Remedios has over 20 years’ experience in telecoms, IT, electronics design and manufacturing. As the founder and President of Meridian Telekoms Inc, he was responsible for the largest broadband wireless access network deployment in Asia. In 1988, he co-founded Micro-D International, which is now the leading network systems integration company in the Philippines. Mr Remedios also spent six years in the USA, where he set up and ran a high-volume electronics SMT manufacturing company. Mr Remedios has also taught Computer and Electrical Engineering at the University of the Philippines and Ateneo de Manila University.
Universalisation of broadband, understandably, is replacing the universalisation of basic telephony as the goal of nations throughout the world. Broadband, especially wireless broadband, often costs less than traditional, copper-wired fixed telephony to deliver. Broadband not only provides low-cost – at times almost no-cost – telephony, but it provides access to the Internet and all the services, including eLearning, eCommerce and eEntertainment, among many others, that only the Internet can provide. Broadband, today, is a necessary tool for progress, inclusion and economic growth.
“The single most important reason why prosperity spreads, and why it continues to spread, is the transmission of technologies and the ideas underlying them. The beauty of ideas is that they can be used over and over again, without ever being depleted.” Jeffrey D. Sachs – Author, The End of Poverty. The past five years saw tremendous growth of broadband Internet, now a hallmark of technological supremacy and economic wellbeing among nations. As expected, developed nations took the early lead in integrating broadband into the very fabric of their way of life, profited from their advanced telecommunication infrastructure and, in the process, created the global digital divide. Fortunately, the easy flow of information and new technologies allow late adopters to ‘come up to speed’ easily with the early adopters. The spread and transfer of broadband technologies in the developing world allows developing nations to leapfrog into the league of the digitally connected. Aided by the pull of the Internet, the demand for broadband is exploding in the developing world. Given their existing telecommunications infrastructure, however, the models that worked for the developed world will certainly not work in emerging markets. A new approach is needed to offer emerging markets a ‘broadband lifeline’, so that they can actively participate in the global economy and build their own. Fixed services in the developing world (countries with per capita GDP between US$4,000 and US$20,000) are nowhere near the levels in the developed world (GDP per capita of US$20,000 up) in terms of penetration rates (21 per cent vs. 64 per cent). Fixed services in the developing world have lagged because of the high cost and difficult deployment of traditional copper or coaxial cable network infrastructures. Still, fixed services, such as fixed voice, broadband and data, remain the gold standard for the communication needs of developed economies, and broadband solutions for emerging markets must meet the same performance standards. Mobile services have succeeded well in the emerging world because of the stronger economics and ease of penetration of the service. Mobile growth continues to be fastest in the emerging world while growth in new fixed-line services has trailed off. As of year-end 2005, emerging market broadband penetration was only 7.5 per cent of total households, compared to 49 per cent in the developed world. As the success of mobile services shows, an approach that considers the realities in emerging markets can unlock the potential of this huge broadband market. The solution for fixed communication services in emerging markets is to use the proven wireless/cellular cost and penetration models already exploited with resounding success in the developing world. The requirements for reliable, affordable broadband Internet is not yet met by current and upcoming mobile broadband solutions. Despite the hype about 3G and next generation mobile broadband technologies, the quality of service associated with these technologies is still suspect and will not soon reach the standards of fixed Internet services. Nowhere in the world has 3G been able to provide the same level of cost/performance that fixed broadband services deliver. The capacity requirements of fixed broadband Internet service are, in order of magnitude, greater than that for mobile broadband Internet service. Peak data rates may be similar for both, but the reality is that fixed broadband applications handle considerably more data compared to mobile broadband. Whilst mobile broadband typically support 3 to 5 Mbps per base station, fixed broadband handles 50 Mbps per base station. Fixed wireless broadband technologies can handle these data rates today. Mobile networks need considerable signal reach capability for reliable indoor and mobile service. A system’s signal reach capability is its link budget. A ‘poor’ link budget limits the access network’s capacity. Today’s fixed broadband wireless access, BWA, systems have lower link budgets due to the use of fixed outdoor antennas, directional indoor or window-mounted antennas, higher performance terminals and, most importantly, signal predictability associated with a non-mobile terminal. With proper radio and cellular system design, installation of an outdoor BWA terminal can be easier than the installation of an outdoor television aerial or satellite TV antenna. Installation of an antenna takes less than two and a half hours in large-scale fixed BWA deployments, and fixed BWA deployment costs already match those for DSL and cable broadband in many emerging markets. Despite the attention given to 3G and mobile WiMax in the press, these are not yet economical alternatives for fixed broadband service. A fixed wireless access network will always have a link budget advantage over a mobile wireless access network. Even if 3G and Mobile WiMax do catch up with the capacities that fixed wireless can provide today, fixed wireless technologies will always provide greater capacity than a mobile network; the large gap in data consumption volume between fixed and mobile applications will never disappear. More than just capacity, service providers should keep other considerations in mind when deploying a large-scale broadband network. In the emerging markets where the growth of mobile networks has eclipsed that of fixed-line networks, and where broadband penetration is waiting to explode, there is a strong case to build fixed-based broadband services as an overlay on top of existing mobile cellular networks using last-mile broadband wireless access (BWA) technologies. There are many characteristics that make BWA a potent technology, narrowing, even closing, the digital divide in emerging markets. • The high levels of mobile penetration facilitate the acceptance of BWA last mile fixed solutions; • Mobile penetration in emerging markets as of end 2005 stood at 32 per cent; this far exceeds fixed-line penetration at 21 per cent, and demonstrates the acceptance of wireless technologies. Long-held beliefs in the advantages of wired-based broadband solutions over wireless no longer hold. In the run-up towards broadband infrastructure development, fixed wireless as a last mile access technology is now seen as a viable solution. Widespread consumer acceptance of mobile wireless has extended to the delivery of wireless broadband as well; • Existing mobile networks, having a much better service distribution architecture than fixed line networks in most emerging markets, can deliver a more affordable and reliable broadband service via BWA; • Building a BWA network on top of existing mobile networks allows for the immediate provisioning of a highly scalable broadband service to a wider coverage area. The synergy in network resources offered by a mobile network enables BWA to be deployed very quickly, enabling operators to offer needed services while tapping into a new revenue stream; • The cost of building additional broadband Internet port capacity has become much lower using BWA versus wired solutions especially when overlaid on existing mobile infrastructure; • In large deployed BWA networks, sufficient subscriber link budgets have been achieved by overlaying the BWA network on top of existing GSM cellular deployments; and, • When built over the same mobile network, the cost of setting up a BWA network comes out at a fraction of the cost of building additional wire line capacity, especially as the cost of BWA base stations and subscriber units have dropped over the past few years. Co-location allows the BWA network to reuse existing tower, back-up power and backbone resources that are already in place in the cellular mobile network. This cost efficient last-mile broadband delivery system renders broadband service more affordable to the mass market while ensuring a faster ROI to the operator. With the more advanced state of mobile infrastructure in emerging markets, it makes practical sense to use cellular networks as a springboard for delivering fixed-based BWA services today. The dominant mobile player has proved this model in the Philippines, where broadband take-up has increased dramatically over the past year with the introduction of affordable BWA service. Bangladesh, Indonesia and India will replicate the model before the year-end. Wireless cellular models using BWA can provide the capacity and services needed to meet fixed communication services standards. Mobile broadband technology, on the other hand, is still a long way from having the same capacity and cost effectiveness to meet the needs of the fixed communication services world. Broadband is a lifeline for the developing world, a tool for participation in the global economy, but it calls for practical solutions that balance cost and performance – even more, building a broadband infrastructure for emerging markets calls for urgent action.