Balloons & Drones for Internet Access? Seriously?!

Remote/Rural Communications don’t Need Loopy Ideas to get Online

There has been much talk in recent months and now some business transactions by leading technology companies to implement exotic schemes to get remote and/or rural communities onto the Internet. These schemes involve high altitude balloons and drones. Seriously? Give us a break! Of all the loopy ideas we’ve heard lately, these have to be some of the most far out.

Google using Titan drones to get rural communities on the Internet is just loopy. Photo credit: singlesoliloquy / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Google using Titan drones to get rural communities on the Internet is just loopy. Photo credit: singlesoliloquy / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)

Beyond generating a lot of publicity for “original” thinking, we really have to be skeptical about the efficacy of such ludicrous proposals. Besides the hard-to-calculate cost of these schemes, they are likely to be highly unreliable, as it’s notoriously difficult to keep either a balloon or a drone geostationary in the stratosphere with all its turbulent airflow. Not to mention the ever-present likelihood of mechanical failure, wing icing, leaks and other factors leading to crash landings. And what about fuel? Or batteries? Can solar power alone keep these contraptions airborne for up to three years? And then what?

Plain ol’ microwave radio
In these situations, all that’s needed is a traditional, reliable microwave radio link. Rather than spend gargantuan wads of their shareholders’ cold, hard cash on pie-in-the-sky Internet boondoggles, Facebook, Google and these other titans of Silicon Valley should come down to earth and look at quick and practical methods for extending Internet connectivity to the Unconnected.

For example, consider the position that Stuart Little, Aviat Networks’ director of solutions marketing, stakes out in April’s issue of “Land Mobile” magazine. He points out that microwave radio technology has been reliably and cost effectively spanning long distances—sometimes over inhospitable geography like deserts or jungles—for decades to connect outposts of humanity to the outside world.

Advantages of microwave radio
Microwave radio has the advantages of high bandwidth and speed to deployment going for it when servicing rural communities. Aviat long-haul microwave radios can accommodate up to 3.7Gbps bandwidth. And it’s very cost effective and can be deployed in a matter of weeks, in some cases.

The other regularly used long-distance backhaul option, fiber-optic technology, has high-capacity bandwidth, but neither cost effectiveness nor speed to deployment for rural communities. Outside of dense urban corridors where high-density populations defray the overall capital expenditure on a per capita basis, fiber is very cost prohibitive. And to trench fiber over an extended distance can take many months.

In testimony before the United States Federal Communications Commission in 2009, representatives of the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors (NATOA), estimated that it could cost $70,000 per mile to deploy a fiber network solution to rural communities. And they are citing just a vanilla example of pulling fiber in a trench in dirt alongside a road. If you add in core electronics for the network you pile on millions of dollars more per site serviced to terminate the network.

For more extreme environments such as in Alaska, a more recent estimate places the cost of deploying fiber at $100,000 per mile. In contrast, for the most sparsely populated parts of Alaska, microwave radio could be deployed at a cost of less than $30,000 per mile. This estimate assumes a tower every 25 miles to host microwave equipment to relay the signal onto the next tower in the network.

By its own admission, the Alaska Broadband Task Force says that 25 miles between radio towers is a conservative assumption. In Aviat Networks’ experience, 40 miles between towers for long distance microwave backhaul can be more typical. And in the most extreme cases, Aviat has been able to implement microwave links of more than 100 miles. The point is that the longer the microwave link the less equipment that is involved, which drives down the cost per mile.

So Facebook and Google, save your billions. Thinking crazy can make you loads in social media and Internet search. But when it comes to building a way-out-there network, you’ll just be tossing your money out a window.

C’mon, Zuck! C’mon, Larry! If you need help with this, give us a call. Or like our Facebook page.

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Cloud Computing is Demanding Bandwidth

All I can say is watch out Mr. Mobile Operator. Google just launched their new Google Drive, a cloud-based product that replaces Google Docs. Drive adds the capability to essentially push all of your documents from various locations to the cloud for collaboration and synchronization to any device. This puts Google’s cloud-based capability on par with Apple’s iCloud service launched last year.

With the massive number of smartphones on the market and somewhere north of 45% being Android-based, this adds even more cloud-enabled devices to the mobile network. We’re talking about photos, videos, documents, etc… any type of file can be uploaded to your Drive on Android-based phones.

Add this to expanded/simplified Dropbox services, Microsoft’s SkyDrive that now provides 7GB of free storage and the many cloud storage products, and you’ve got a ton of data flowing across the mobile network in both directions (e.g. uplink and downlink).

Services like this will continue to fuel the subscriber appetite for more and more feature rich services at the same time fueling demand for ever increasing amounts of raw bandwidth all the way to the edge of the network. Those 8 megapixel photos or 1080P videos most newer smartphones take use a lot of space and therefore lots of bandwidth.

Steven Loebrich
Director, Partner and Solutions Marketing
Aviat Networks

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Mobile World Congress 2012 Day 2

Aviat Networks meets customers at Mobile World Congress 2012

Aviat Networks personnel were busy on Day 2 of Mobile World Congress 2012 meeting customers, analysts and journalists.

So we are halfway done, and the crowds surged today. The GSMA should be pretty pleased with the attendance, with most halls being packed full. We had another busy day in our pavilion, meeting with customers, press, media and analysts, bringing them up to speed with our success in providing proven backhaul solutions for LTE networks around the world.

There has been lots of discussion at the show about small cells and possible backhaul solutions but not much in the way of visible solutions. On the backhaul side 60 GHz point-to-point seems to be the flavor of the month, with NEC launching its new solution, among others. Not long ago E-Band (70-90 GHz) was the favorite, but concerns about OPEX appear to be driving vendors to the lower frequency band, which is license-free, as opposed to the “lightly licensed” E-Band. Whether this actually will make any meaningful difference in the overall cost of providing backhaul for small cells may depend on a lot of factors. What is certain is that it is too early to tell, as many agree that deployment of small cells will still be one to two years away yet, so the best backhaul solutions may still be on the drawing board. All we know is that no single technology will be a clear winner, and that all solutions will need to satisfy the requirements of very low cost, sufficient capacity, size and ease of deployment.

On a similar and related front, Ericsson and Alcatel-Lucent among others were promoting their new integrated/Carrier Wi-Fi solutions, fresh off the recent news of Ericsson’s acquisition of BelAir Networks. Carrier Wi-Fi promises to converge mobile and Wi-Fi technologies to provide a seamless broadband experience for customers and improve network coverage and capacity as an alternative to deploying new cell sites.

Finally, for those willing to stay late and tolerate the queue into the conference auditorium, Google’s Eric Schmidt gave another thought-provoking and potentially controversial keynote about Google’s vision for the mobile Internet. You should be able to catch a replay on the GSMA’s Mobile World Live website sometime soon.

See you on Day 3!

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