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Why Wireless Broadband Is No Alternative to FttH

Paul Budde

The mainly politically-driven debate — FttH versus wireless broadband — is spreading uninformed messages and half-truths in the market. And confusing messages from mobile operators are also blurring the picture. All well-informed people confirm that this is a nonsensical debate — both infrastructures will coexist with, and supplement, each other.

The fixed broadband network is the infrastructure needed to meet the needs, both economic and societal, of developed markets. While some people in some developed markets have abandoned their fixed telephone connection in favour of all-mobile solutions, the majority (90% plus) still have both a fixed and a mobile connection.

This is a clear indication that, despite the confusion, people have discovered for themselves that they need both, and they have intuitively worked out what they use, where and when. The same applies to the various communications applications. Again intuitively, people are using SMS, chat, social media, email, telephone messages and voice-based telephony.

There is no reason to suppose that this will change. Using transport as an example, one method does not replace the other. We walk, use the bike, car, bus, train, boat, plane, etc. without too much discussion and confusion.

And so wireless broadband and FttH will develop, in a complementary and harmonious way.

There are several reasons for this:

  • Advanced economies and societies will see an increase in the demand for quality and sophistication of application (digital nations, digital economies, smart buildings, smart cities) and this will have its impact on the quality of the digital infrastructure that is needed to support these developments.
  • Wireless is a shared infrastructure — in the absence of FttH-like applications this technology already demands a significant increase in the number of mobile towers. More of these base stations are needed as the demand for mobile capacity (broadband) increases, and this creates its own environmental and societal problems.
  • Most people will have experienced mobile quality problems: blackspots, dropouts, loss of quality. How tolerant will people be of these problems in relation to TV, healthcare, HD education and other essential services?
  • The level of reliability, security, privacy and quality required will be impossible to achieve without very significant investment in mobile infrastructure. However such investments will make the delivery of FttH-like mobile services economically unviable.
  • Antenna-based systems will always be more expensive to maintain than fixed FttH networks. In the long term FttH is a more cost-effective solution in nearly all broadband deployments.
  • Wireless broadband will be an integral and essential part of any advanced digital infrastructure. There will be some overlap but the major usages are complementary. Seamless integration between FttH and 5G will occur later on in this decade (FMC — Fixed Mobile Convergence).

In low-density areas in developed economies there is room for fixed wireless (instead of FttH). Low density means less sharing = better quality. The relatively small population size of the areas where such infrastructure, will be deployed and the fact that this will be mainly government-funded rural/regional infrastructure, will allow for the over-engineering necessary for the delivery of comparable user experiences to people in these areas. Nevertheless, because of its superior quality, advances in the FttH technology will see an ongoing increase of its reach into regional areas.

Mobile broadband will be the only way to advance telecoms developments in developing economies with little or no fixed infrastructure in place; and not just for telecoms — even more importantly, for economic and social developments (e-commerce, m-payments, e-health, education and so on). The United Nations has already earmarked broadband as an essential element in the Millennium Development Goals.

However, even here, over time (20-25 years, perhaps less) this will lead to higher FttH penetration in these countries as well, for exactly the same reasons that are mentioned above.

By Paul Budde, Managing Director of Paul Budde Communication – Paul is also a contributor of the Paul Budde Communication blog located hereVisit Page
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The author - out of ignorance or malice, I can't tell which - conflates wireless with mobile. Brett Glass  –  Feb 26, 2011 4:11 PM PDT

The fact is that fixed wireless broadband providers - WISPs - offer the most cost-effective way to connect users, especially in areas of low population density, and are thereby very competitive with both fiber and copper.

WISPS Paul Budde  –  Feb 26, 2011 5:11 PM PDT

I agree Brett, however, their overall impact on a national scale is minuscule. The vested interests are more than happy to let these WISPs - as they see it - 'fiddle in the margin'. They will use this to indicate that we don't need more regulations as these WISPs are doing a good job. As I mentioned they certainly do but it has very little impact on the overall competitiveness of the market.

Paul

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