Why wireless is only part of the solution

Submitted by acohill on Wed, 07/29/2009 - 09:02

AT&T has been having problems with its cellular data networks--both EDGE and 3G. I noticed that things were not working at all on the data side (phone calls were fine) on Monday and Tuesday, but since the release of the new iPhone last month, I've had chronic problems with pokey data access. Every time Apple releases a new iPhone, another million or two new users get dumped onto AT&T's network, and all these new users are busy playing with their phones, downloading apps, surfing the Web, and using more wireless bandwidth than usual.

AT&T just has not been able to keep up, and it's not a problem unique to AT&T--it's a wireless issue that will never go away. As more people use wireless, you have to constantly add capacity. As you add capacity and the network gets faster, it encourages people to use more bandwidth...so you have to add more capacity...and so it goes.
It is very expensive to add capacity on wireless networks. Fiber, by comparison, in today's designs, starts out with enough capacity to do virtually anything you would want to do in a household or small business, so you don't get onto the wireless treadmill of constant upgrades and expenditures just to keep up.

Video is voracious, and we now have have wireless devices like the iPhone that have the horsepower to play high quality video. But the wireless networks don't have the capacity to support that in any meaningful way. And if you built a wireless network capable of supporting lots of video, you'd spend more than you would on running open access fiber to every home and business.

Wireless is here to stay for mobility access, but it's not THE broadband solution...it's part of the solution, but only part of the solution. Open access fiber is now essential public infrastructure if communities want to attract new businesses and keep the ones they already have; integrated fiber and wireless networks like The Wired Road, nDanville, Utopia, and the Eastern Shore Broadband Authority are the future of economic growth in the U.S.

Wireless interim premises technology

"Wireless is here to stay for mobility access, but it's not THE broadband solution...it's part of the solution, but only part of the solution."

This is particularly the case with respect to premises wireless broadband, which I see as an interim technology in lieu of FTTP much like DSL. I believe we'll see a large chunk of the broadband stimulus funding designated for WISPs which offers both advantages and downsides. The advantage is it is the most rapid and initially inexpensive way to fill broadband voids. The downside is as you mention -- limited upgrade path. Plus WISPs have been historically constrained on backhaul. Many smaller ones that use T-1 for backhaul for example hit the wall not long after adding a relatively small number of subscribers.

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