This idea is focused on ensuring that we don't waste our time and money deploying wireless internet solutions that will not meet our future needs for homes across America. Doing it right is expensive, but doing it wrong and sacrificing our future would be far worse and more expensive in the long run.
In the Policy Brief, "Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber-Optic Options" (1), Christopher Mitchell states: "The question should not be whether to invest in fiber or wireless any more than one would ask whether shoes are 'better' than hats. Ultimately, they solve different problems and neither one offers a one size fits all solution." The brief also states: "Those who expect a future without wires are sadly mistaken. Existing wireless networks are perfectly adequate for voice, email, or Internet surfing, but their limitations preclude high quality videophone applications and other bandwidth intensive applications." This statement applies to 4G wireless as well.
Many of the FCC workshops have discussed the capabilities of wireless internet technologies. The viewer is left with the impression that wireless solutions such as WiMAX and LTE can deliver bandwidth-intensive broadband access to homes across the USA. This is an attractive idea, since it is less expensive to deploy wireless solutions vs. fiber, copper and cable, particularly in less dense rural areas.
Unfortunately, as documented in several sources, including the above brief and "Report of the US Broadband Coalition on a National Broadband Strategy" (2), wireless solutions cannot meet these bandwidth-intensive broadband needs. Comments from industry experts and wireless carriers during the FCC workshops also raise questions about the ability of the wireless solutions to deliver bandwidth-intensive broadband internet services.
To be clear, we need to define "bandwidth-intensive broadband internet service". The US Broadband Coalition Report includes a table that itemizes four tiers of broadband speeds required for a variety of applications. The fourth and highest tier of this table includes applications such as: Telemedicine, Educational Services, Broadcast Video SD and some HD, IPTV-High Definition, Gaming (complex), and High Quality Telepresence. These applications require 10Mbps to 100Mbps upstream and downstream speeds. For the purpose of this discussion, this tier is referred to as "bandwidth-intensive broadband internet service".
Rural homes are the hardest to reach with either fixed or wireless solutions. They may also benefit the most form bandwidth-intensive applications like telepresence, telemedicine, and distance learning, since the corresponding physical services are often too far away for reasonable access. We need to deploy solutions that will meet our needs across the country, not just in high density areas.
The US Broadband Coalition was unable to reach a consensus on recommended speeds and time lines. However, the report included the following straw man targets. Some members felt these targets were too aggressive, some felt they were not aggressive enough, and some felt they were in line with the de facto standard among the world's leading nations:
1) Wireline to Residential Households: 90% availability at 100 Mbps to 1 Gbps; 80% adoption by 2015
2) Wireless: 90% availability at 1 to 10 Mbps by 2015.
2020 targets were increased to 98% availability.
Current levels were pegged at:
1) Wireline to Residential Households: 90% availability at 3Mbps or less
2) Wireless: 95% availability at 1 Mbps or less
The current numbers are not very useful in that dial-up meets the "3Mbps or less" criteria. Regardless, we have a long way to go.
Even if we end up with residential targets lower than the Coalition straw man targets, wireless solutions will not meet this demand, taking into account contention ratios, distance degradation, coverage, and reliability. Although WiMAX is quoted as up to 144Mbps, the usable bandwidth under load is really in the 1-10Mbps range. From a practical perspective only a combination of fiber and copper can achieve reliable and scalable 10-100Mbps up/down speeds. We can reuse copper in the short term, but over time we may well need to extend fiber to the home in order to meet growing demands.
In the meantime, let's not waste our money. Wireless has an important role to play, but it is not a substitute for bandwidth-intensive broadband to the home. We need to focus our scarce resources and funding on the critical and inevitable wireline solutions that will protect our future and economic growth.
Please note: I have no connection or relationship with either the New Rules Project or the US Broadband Coalition. I have found these reports to be balanced and consistent with my personal experience.
(1) "Municipal Broadband: Demystifying Wireless and Fiber-Optic Options" http://www.newrules.org/information/publications/municipal-broadband-demystifying-wireless-and-fiberoptic-options
(2) Report of the US Broadband Coalition on a National Broadband Strategy" http://www.bb4us.net/index.html