Fiber to the Wireless Drop

Building a robust last mile is a challenge for broadband operators. In this interview, filmed at the 2011 IP Possibilities, Rob Riordan, EVP and director of corporate development for Nsightan award-winning pioneer in the deployment of femtocell technology, advances an idea for using hardened femtocells at the pedestal to solve the drop part of the last mile access challenge.

As a lower-cost alternative to Fiber to the Home, his approach would use Fiber to the Neighborhood and femtocells instead of a copper drop to bring high-speed broadband access for both fixed and mobile applications within and outside the home. Using relatively low-power devices, the existing copper network would power these devices. While great in concept, as Riordan points out, there are a couple of things that need to happen first:

  1. Development of outside plant encased, environmentally hardened, femtocells. Although devices may not exist today, there are definitely companies, such as Bel Air Networks and Huawei, that are getting close to having products that meet Riordan’s objectives.
  2. Spectrum – operators that don’t have spectrum need a solution, which Riordan suggests could include partnering with cell phone operators. Another approach offered up by Riordan is the nascent, unlicensed TV white spaces which provide an opportunity for anyone to get in the wireless business.  He suggests that it is important for landline carriers to follow the development of TV White Spaces, as this could provide spectrum that many of them do not have.

Building on Riordan’s idea, Connected Planet reports that other carriers are looking at network-based fetmocells as a way of increasing capacity, as opposed to increasing coverage. The key difference between these approaches is that the costs are part of the capital infrastructure in a network infrastructure approach, as opposed to being borne by the customer as was the case with the first generation femtocells.

Riordan’s idea is definitely on the leading edge, but one response from an engineering firm to recent Viodi View survey suggested that they are also investigating this technology for their independent telco clients. What may get the interest of their clients is the potential for broadband delivery at a lower capital expenditure than the FTTH alternative.

Note:  To see the video demonstration of TV White Spaces that was referenced in the above interview, click here.