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Ofcom study slams wireless as last mile tech

A study commissioned by UK telecoms watchdog Ofcom has blasted wireless technology as insufficient to cope with future broadband requirements over the whole of the last mile.

Cambridge-based communications design facility Plextek recently completed a six month research study on behalf Ofcom, to investigate the use of wireless technology as an alternative for the provision of last mile communications to the home.

Ofcom asked Plextek to consider whether there is a way forward to offering economic, ubiquitous broadband wireless access, given that previous solutions have had marginal business cases.

On Monday, Plextek said that wireless cannot realistically compete with fibre for the provision of future broadband requirements over the whole of the last mile.

Steve Methley, senior consultant at Plextek said that the study considers the transition over the next 10-20 years, from today’s ADSL broadband to the future requirement which the industry terms ‘Broadband 2.0’.

It is anticipated that the last mile requirement will increasingly be one in which there is convergence of services and platforms providing communications and entertainment to the home.

“Future high definition (HD) TV services are likely to demand undiluted access to streaming content at 10-15Mbps, per channel, which is massively in excess of what today’s ADSL systems can support,” said Methley. “Not enough people understand that today’s ADSL is a contended service – delivered rates may fall to only hundreds of Kbps.”

Having ruled out ADSL, Plextek believes that upcoming wireless standards show a bias towards small screen mobile content delivery and are not attempting to address the challenge of Broadband 2.0 requirements.

Although WiMAX is already approaching Gigabit speeds, through its investigations of mesh and multihopping systems, UHF/TV band working and hybrid schemes with fibre or gigabit ‘wireless fibre’, Plextek concluded that the Broadband 2.0 solution must be based on fibre which must in future reach further into the access network – potentially all the way to the customer premises.

“Fibre can solve the contention issues by increasing back haul capacity and can solve the last mile issue by acting as a point to point solution alone, or as a feeder to DSL distribution technologies – thus effectively reducing the length of DSL lines required,” said Plextek.

However, as of the start of 2007, there are only around 1 million Fibre to the Home (FTTH) subscriptions in Western Europe, according to Informa Telecoms & Media’s Broadband Subscriber Database.

FTTH is most-advanced in Sweden, where the technology is used for 650,000, or over 27 per cent of the country’s 2,340,000 broadband subscriptions. And France Telecom and its domestic competitors, Iliad and Neuf Cegetel have also begun to roll out FTTH in cities and suburbs across France.

But generally speaking, in Europe, there is less interest in building FTTH networks from conventional, national telecoms operators, who argue that the approach is currently too expensive to carry out on a widespread basis.

The majority of former state-owned monopolies, for example, have instead committed to fibre to the node. These networks use fibre for part of the last-mile connection and the traditional copper network for the final leg to the home, which generally limits commercial speeds to around up to 50Mbps.

Indeed, the researchers at Plextek suggest that wireless has application as a last mile feeder element, using Gigabit speed wireless as a fibre replacement as well as within the home, using technology such as 802.11n.

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