Jon Walkenhorst, Chief Technology Officer for the Connected Home division of Technicolor, explains the growing role of wireless broadband technologies in providing “fixed” broadband access, saying it may be one of the least understood but most impactful technologies for attendees of Mobile World Congress 2017.
Walkenhorst: I’d say the dominant least understood technology is wireless and the role it is going to play in broadband. For the past 15 or 20 years it has been accepted that the wired network – coax, copper or fiber – is the predominant, preferred -- or even the only – w ay to bring high-speed broadband into the home. But the future is not the same as the past.
Walkenhorst: Look at the behaviors we’re seeing from the millennial generation. These viewers have moved away from going to watch TV where there is a high-quality physical connection to consuming content whenever and wherever they want.
That necessitates a certain amount of mobility. What had been a set-top box attached to a television now becomes a mobile device or a tablet sitting in the bedroom, or sitting in traffic, or sitting in some other private room where content is consumed.
Walkenhorst: This is about internet getting to within the last 100 meters via wire or fiber and from there using wireless so you don’t have to stay in one location to get good connectivity.
It’s becoming common for consumers to prefer long-term evolution (LTE) or mobility over their Wi-Fi, and by that I mean those consumers don’t necessarily know the difference: They just want it to work.
A recent study found that consumers prefer LTE because it is simply ubiquitously available. They don’t have to worry about the network they are connecting to. They don’t have to worry about a password; it’s just always on. In the future, that mentality will apply to broadband, to the last mile.
Walkenhorst: When I say wireless, I mean a more ubiquitous technology. I am saying that people just want it to work. They don’t care if it is LTE, if it’s Wi-Fi or some other wireless technology.
So we at Technicolor — as the customer-premises equipment (CPE) vendor — are looking for a way to make wireless more ubiquitous or democratic. You will grab your phone, you will grab your content and maybe your HMD for your immersive experience, and you just want it to work, whether you are in your own home or a friend’s house, or on the top floor of an apartment building, in the lobby or in the gym. You will want to connect to your wireless and expect your content to just be there.
LTE today is a nearly always available network. Mobile devices just connect to a service provider. I don’t need to put in a password. The phone or the Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) card provides the equivalent of a certificate that allows me to join.
There’s no reason we cannot take that type of technology and apply it to all forms of wireless, and then you have connectivity wherever you are. This brings me back to wireless being the least understood technology. We tend to silo our technologies because that’s the way we learned them.
They say that a child born in 2016 may never learn to drive a car. I think a child born in 2012 will never understand a Service Set Identifier (SSD) network. It will just be wireless; the child will just connect.
Walkenhorst: We can learn a lot of lessons from our LTE experience. Over the last several technology evolutions, weve developed the concept of SON: self-organizing network. It enables you to connect to the closest, or the strongest network access point, or even the one with the most available bandwidth, allowing the operator to plan, configure, manage, optimize, and ideally heal a wireless network.
Today, our phones connect to the strongest, loudest access point. That does not mean it has the most bandwidth. That’s not a parameter which is included in the algorithm that determines which one it should talk to.
A macrocell today might support a thousand users and might have a gigabit of throughput. That does not scale when you have 1,000 users who all want 100 megs of throughput.
They can all connect, but they find it is really slow. By bringing in SON, you can steer devices to base stations further away that might have much more throughput. We need to apply that to all forms of wireless.
Walkenhorst: If we look at this first from a North American perspective, we can see that the telecom companies, cable companies and even mobile providers have spent a lot of time pushing fiber closer and closer to the home.
Putting fiber all the way into the home might be cost prohibitive, but getting it to within 50 or 100 meters of 10 or 15 homes might be reasonable. The cost of putting fiber into the home is anywhere from $1,000 to $1,500. Most of that is spent on trenching and on repairs to the customer’s neighborhood. But if I can get it to within 100 meters of the home, I can avoid most of those costs.
The cable companies already have coax over that last 100 meters. They have made that investment. Other service providers have to push fiber over those last 100 meters.
But if they can use wireless — based either line of sight or non-line of sight technologies — depending on the frequency, then they dont need to make that additional investment.
In other parts of the world, where there has not been the same level of investment in coax, there are multiple ways to leverage fiber and multiple ways to provide that last mile access.
In a large multidwelling unit (MDU), if I can put fiber into the building and I dont have to run Ethernet cable or copper or coax to every unit, I can put in wireless repeaters and provide access to individual units through wireless.
In an emerging economy, if I can cover a village with only one wireless antenna, I only need to get the fiber to the center of the village.
How will this new relationship between wireless and fixed access technologies be implemented, or is it already happening? What are some scenarios under which this new converged approach to wireless might develop?
Walkenhorst: In 2012, when Hurricane Sandy slammed into the New Jersey and New York coasts, a number of customers of Verizon’s landline business had been getting the internet via digital subscriber line (DSL). When the hurricane wiped out all that infrastructure, Verizon decided not to reinstall copper but to just go with fiber and wireless.
It chose to introduce fixed wireless broadband: a line-of-sight, point-to-point access method where customers were getting internet access through radio on the outside of their home.
We’ve come a long way since then. In 2017, AT&T announced it was continuing fixed wireless trials but using different frequencies above the traditional LTE spectrum. In 2015 and 2016, we also saw the end of the Google fiber initiative as originally constituted.
Here is another case in point: Google realized that getting fiber to within a few hundred meters of the home was good enough. There are other ways to cover that last mile much more cost effectively.
In China, China Telecom has deployed in excess of 1.2 million small cell radios. These do not use the 5G technology we are all anticipating, but the technology is not dissimilar. This is where broadband is going.
Walkenhorst: I would argue that Technicolor is the world’s best CPE gateway manufacturer. We understand what it means to provide wireless in the home, via Wi-Fi, and we’re looking at ways to extend wireless broadband networks into the home. We’re working with a number of partners, as well as new technologies and new frequencies that are moving us into wireless.
We’re also planning to add SON capabilities to Wi-Fi. This is important in multidwelling units to reduce the number of access points in a building while also having better control, better coverage and higher customer satisfaction.
We have a plan, and we are executing on it now.